Ice skating is set to carry on as a winter pastime for Turlock families attending the R.A.M. Farms Christmas Tree Lot later this year, as the Planning Commission unanimously approved not only the continued operation of the facility’s adjacent ice rink, but an expansion of the seasonal project to nearly double in size as well.
Although the size of the popular ice skating rink could increase from its prior 4,800 square feet to 9,600 square feet when it reopens for a much-anticipated second season, R.A.M. Farms owner and Turlock Irrigation District President Ron Macedo explained to the Planning Commission on Thursday that his reasoning for the size increase is not to allow for hundreds of more ice skaters on the rink at one time, but instead geared toward a matter of safety.
“We would only allow a maximum of 160 on the rink at a time, because we were trying our best to keep it manageable,” said Macedo, as he shared that the rink would often see anywhere between 800 and 900 visitors per day during its opening season last year. “There were many times where we had to turn people away because we felt that it was for the betterment of their safety, and also for the surrounding neighborhood.”
While the purpose of the Planning Commission’s discussion was to determine if the ice skating rink at R.A.M. Farms could still be considered “agricultural use,” as allowed at the property within the Turlock General Plan, or instead should be deemed “commercial use” and consequently not permitted for expanded operations at its current location, the conversation swiftly turned to the expanded facility’s impacts on nearby residents as several neighbors took to the podium addressing concerns such as increased traffic, parking issues, noise levels and left-behind garbage from ice rink visitors.
However, despite sharing these few general concerns, the vast majority of R.A.M. Farms neighbors expressed support for the continued operation of the ice skating rink and planned expansion, as several praised Macedo’s consistent efforts to alleviate any negative experiences for neighbors resulting from the opening of the ice rink at the Christmas tree lot during its first season. Although many stressed the importance of creating additional on-site parking spaces to avoid having visitors park vehicles within their adjacent neighborhoods, by and large, nearby residents expressed good faith in the owners of R.A.M. Farms to make the needed improvements to mitigate their parking concerns.
“Growing up in Turlock, I would’ve loved having an ice rink here in town,” said Pete Peterson, a nearby resident who also volunteered as a ‘skate police’ last season. “I love this project, because it also gave me the opportunity to meet with other neighbors who also loved having it there. Being there I experienced laughter and all different nationalities coming together. Throughout the season, Ron and Karen worked with me and other neighbors to mitigate any problems or concerns that arose. They were very accommodating.”
Not all of the nearby residents shared the same experience, however, as one neighbor attending the meeting called the ice skating rink a “big problem for those living nearby.”
“People might not have made formal complaints but there were neighbors complaining to each other over there,” said Olga Keal. “I want them to prosper and I do think that it is a great thing for the community, but it’s the wrong location with it being in a quiet neighborhood. The pumpkin patch was never a problem, but once the ice skating rink opened it’s been a big problem.”
In response to the three complaints made during the meeting by neighbors who opposed the expansion, Macedo said that he had “no problem with making all of the requested changes, and increasing our efforts to keep the adjacent neighborhoods clean.” Additionally, Macedo suggested the City install “No Parking” signs throughout the nearby neighborhoods to ensure that residents could park in their usual places.
“We’re not here to step on anybody’s toes,” said Mike Macedo, a relative who helped develop the rink. “We’re just trying to improve it to make it safer for everyone, and we’re open to any suggestions.”
Upon reviewing the development plans and public input, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to deem the project as remaining consistent with the Turlock General Plan’s designated “agricultural use” of the parcel, allowing for the expansion.
Due to the concerns of the neighbors and recommendations made by City staff, the Planning Commission then voted on the Conditions of Approval for the project, including: a required, immediate acoustic analysis to verify that the sound from the loud speakers and music system doesn’t violate City/County Noise Ordinances; a final inspection by Stanislaus County staff at the close of each season to ensure that the conditions are met; a parking management plan to ensure that vehicles park within the designated on-site parking lots, in addition to having at least one parking attendant to monitor traffic and redirect vehicles from parking at adjacent neighborhoods; and making improvements to the overflow parking lot by the beginning of the season.
“It’s already there, so by virtue it’s already consistent with the City’s General Plan,” said Commissioner Mike Brem. “And by approvinig it, we can now include additional conditions to make the needed improvements for area neighbors…It could be a win-win.”
The R.A.M. Farms ice skating rink expansion is expected to be presented before the City Council for a final vote on May 27.