For the past two years, winter holiday time in Turlock has been a little more fun as thousands of families have been able to enjoy ice skating at Fields of Ice, a seasonal rink operated by R.A.M Farms on Daubenberger Road, just south of Canal Drive.
For Ken McBay, however, the past two winter holidays have been unbearable due to the ice rink. The back yard of McBay's Corrello Street home is one house removed from Fields of Ice and he said he hears all the screaming and yelling of those participating in the seasonal skating activity.
"My house is not a pleasant place to be in in the winter," said McBay at Wednesday's neighborhood meeting held by the Stanislaus County Planning Department to gain input about R.A.M. Farms' application to extend its season and hours of operation.
McBay said he thinks a winter ice skating rink is a good idea for Turlock, but it should be located closer to retail areas of town. He referenced a new seasonal ice skating rink that could be opening in November in a city parking lot in downtown Modesto.
McBay wasn't the only person to voice complaints about the impact R.A.M Farms' seasonal activities are having on the residential neighborhood, both in the winter with its ice skating rink and Christmas tree sales and during the fall months when the farm offers a corn maze, pumpkin patch and outdoor Halloween themed movies.
Neighbors of the farm complained about the traffic and noise of the operation, which more than one person called "an amusement park."
For Matt Rickard, whose house sits directly across the street from R.A.M. Farms, the main issue is the operation not complying with its original use permit.
"Last year's week day hours of operation were outside of those permitted. They were never enforced," said Rickard.
He also has a problem with the current construction of a 100 by 80 foot structure on the farm, as the farm's current use permit allows for temporary buildings to be erected on the site starting in the last week of September.
Not all of R.A.M Farms' neighbors are having trouble with the seasonal activities. Michael Ireland, speaking on behalf of farm neighbors Zack Fowler and Haley Pascoe, said the couple welcomes the sound of laughter from families enjoying themselves at the pumpkin patch and ice rink. Others said the noise and traffic from the farm's seasonal offerings is no different than what is experienced in other parts of town during high school and youth football games at Joe Debely Stadium and for neighborhoods near the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds.
Many stated that having a place for families to go for holiday fun is worth the extra noise and traffic.
"The ice rink is the biggest breath of fresh air that has some to our area," said Charmaine Lazar, who lives on Canal Drive. "I can't thank the Macedos enough for bringing this to the area."
Wednesday's meeting was held to address an amendment to the use permit for the farm to extend its operating season for the pumpkin patch and corn maze to begin on the last Friday in September through Oct. 31 or the first weekend of November if Halloween falls on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Hours would remain the same (8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.), with Friday included as part of the weekend (8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Sunday). Special corn maze events could be scheduled until 10 p.m. during the last two weeks of October.
The project would also extend the operating season for the ice skating rink from the weekend before Thanksgiving to Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Monday after the third weekend of January). Hours of operation would be extended until 10 p.m. daily.
The question of zoning was also brought up at the neighborhood meeting. The land on which R.A.M Farms sits is zoned for Agriculture, said Angela Freitas, the county's director of Planning and Community Development.
"There is a balance there that allows for these types of uses. Is it appropriate in an Ag zone? By ordinance, yes," said Freitas.
Ron Macedo of R.A.M Farms addressed a few of the concerns made by neighbors of the operation at the meeting. He said the farm is trying to improve traffic and safety by making changes in the parking lot like putting down an all-weather surface to avoid flying rocks as people come and go. Macedo said there will be additional signage to direct traffic in the most efficient and safe manner. He also said the farm is negotiating with local law enforcement to possibly provide security on Friday and Saturday nights, when the farm is the busiest.
"This is a new and unique business and we're trying harder to make it right," he said.
Macedo said the pumpkin patch and corn maze are a "labor of love" and there are no plans to make the seasonal activities any bigger; no "water slide" in the farm's future.
"I'm still a farmer and this is all there's going to be," he said.
Javier Camarena, the associate planner for the county in charge of this project, said all the comments voiced at Wednesday's meeting, as well as those given in writing or by phone, would be considered as the planning department drafts conditions of approval for the amendment to mitigate concerns. This process is expected to take two to three weeks.
Those wishing to submit a comment about R.A.M Farms' application to extend its season and hours of operation can contact Camarena at 525-6330 or firstname.lastname@example.org.