Bowing to concerns from farmers and slow-growth advocates, City Council members put the brakes on a plan to push Modesto's future development across Highway 99 toward Salida.
The council's three-member Economic Development Committee voted Monday against expanding the city's sphere of influence to include 1,000 acres surrounding Beckwith Road and North Dakota Avenue, just west of Highway 99. Committee members said the idea needed more public input before moving forward to the full council.
The sphere of influence defines where Modesto intends to develop in the future. Proponents wanted the properties inside Modesto's control because they're designated for job- and tax-generating business parks and commercial uses.
But bringing the land into Modesto's planning boundaries doesn't sit well with growth critics and ag supporters, several of whom spoke at Monday's meeting.
Jake Wenger, whose family grows walnuts and almonds on 350 acres around Beckwith Road, told the committee that when farmland is added to a city's sphere of influence, it loses its "prime" rating, the highest score the state can give land. Once that status is lost, it opens the door to more development, Wenger said, because builders can argue that they're not destroying prime farmland.
The committee seemed swayed by Wenger's comments. "That's not where I think the city should grow," Councilman Brad Hawn said. "If it was the only business park available to us, I would think differently, but it's not."
Council members Kristin Olsen and Dave Geer said they felt the same way. Olsen questioned the timing of the move to expand the city's growth boundary. She noted that voters sent a strong anti-development message when they rejected five growth-related ballot measures last November.
The committee voted 3-0 not to send the proposed sphere of influence expansion to the full council for approval.
Expanding the sphere of influence was one of several growth-related questions before the committee.
The council members advanced plans to change how land can be developed in six areas. For example, along Kiernan Avenue, land designated for residential development would be switched to commercial development.
The changes in land use restrictions are meant to bring jobs and businesses to Modesto.