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RAM Farms seeks ice rink expansion
ice skating pic1
Friends hold hands as they brave the slippery surface on opening day at Fields of Ice skating rink at RAM Farms in Turlock in November 2013. The Turlock Planning Commission will consider a request from RAM Farms to double the size of the ice rink for the 2014-2015 winter season, and extend its operations into January. - photo by Journal file photo

After a successful first season of hosting a community ice skating rink, RAM Farms is seeking permission from the City of Turlock to not only extend their dates of operation but also expand the ice rink by nearly double in size.
Pending approval from the Planning Commission on Thursday, the owner of RAM Farms, Turlock Irrigation District president and local farmer Ron Macedo, is requesting to extend the operating season of the ice rink to the third week in January, one week and two days longer than last season. Additionally, the ice rink could be doubled in size from its existing 4,800 square feet to 9,600 square feet to allow for more customers while also featuring a partial covering of the rink to protect patrons from rough weather. If approved, RAM Farms would also have to expand its existing parking lot during the season from 28 to 58 spaces, with an overflow parking area to allow for the expected increase in customers throughout the season.
Because the project falls within an area that is designated for development in the City of Turlock General Plan for High Density Residential and Public Uses, such as a potential elementary school, the property is not designated for commercial use in the future. Due to this designation, the city has strong policies allowing for the continuance of agricultural uses until urban use is developed on the property in the future.
As RAM Farms features a Christmas tree lot in addition to the ice skating rink, and since Stanislaus County does not have a precise definition for a Christmas tree lot or a pumpkin patch that would either authorize or preclude the inclusion of an ice rink facility or any other amenities offered by the project, the question before the Planning Commission is whether the project's use can still be considered "agricultural" or should be considered commercial use. Additionally, the Planning Commission will have to decide whether or not the project is consistent with the City's General Plan given that it is located on a parcel that is designated for future housing development.
In an analysis provided to the Planning Commission, city staff say that they believe the proposed expansion is "reaching a level that requires more extensive and permanent improvements to the roadway, sidewalks, and street lighting as well as for the parking lot area," while also noting that the proposed parking lot has almost as many parking spaces as the CVS Pharmacy center's parking lot located on Geer Road. Although the use is seasonal and is designed to sell produce and Christmas trees, city staff says that the growth of the ice rink and parking lot is "reaching a level that may be considered more commercial in nature."
When first approved to host an ice skating rink at the RAM Farms Christmas tree lot on N. Daubenberger Road, the city did not require major improvements to the roadways or a traffic study to determine if other off-site improvements were necessary to ensure the safety of motorists and pedestrians due to increased traffic attracted to the site. However, should the ice skating rink and parking lot double in size, staff are recommending that such an analysis be required alongside additional conditions of approval.
As there are currently no definite criteria establishing when a use such as RAM Farms' seasonal ice skating rink "crosses the line" and becomes an urban commercial use that should no longer be permitted in areas designated for agricultural or residential use, the Planning Commission will help provide input to the City Council who will take up the issue at their May 27 meeting to decide where to "draw the line."
On Thursday, the Planning Commission is also expected to:
• Review the City's Active Transportation Plan;
• Discuss the launch of the city's HERO Financing Program for residential energy efficiency upgrades;
• Receive an update on the county's revocation hearing for the Larsa Event Center.
The Planning Commission meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday at City Hall, located at 156 S. Broadway.