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Livingston annexation appears on fast track

LIVINGSTON -- City officials have taken steps toward approving a Gallo family request to annex several hundred acres of land into the city.

Proponents argue it would set the stage for luring industry and jobs to the town. However, local residents have already voiced concerns about the possible negative impacts of development in the area.

On Thursday the Livingston Planning Commission voted unanimously to send an annexation plan to the City Council, which would make 334 acres of land owned by the Gallo family part of the city.

If the council votes to incorporate the property into the city limit, future industrial, commercial and housing developments approved at the site would then have access to public services, including water, sewer, fire and police -- important incentives for prospective investors.

A consultant for Mike Gallo, Frank Borges, declined to name particular businesses that have expressed interest in investing on the property. But he said there is a "market trend" moving toward industrial use in the county. "We think the city of Livingston has an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of this trend of industrial uses along the 99 freeway," he said.

But jobs or no jobs, several residents have questioned the wisdom of allowing Gallo to develop that land as part of the city. Concerns included impacts to the Merced River and a nearby floodplain, as well as planning questions around providing sewage and transportation.

"I have a special needs child," said Colette Alvernaz, a nearby resident. "We call out ambulances for her. I need to know that the road is not impacted, that ambulance and fire can get to me as quickly as possible. What is the traffic plan?"

Some have also expressed concern the city has recently been too hasty to approve the project. City officials said there's good reason to move quickly.

The Planning Commission held a special meeting during the holidays to put the annexation proposal in front of the City Council in February, when the 2025 general plan is up for approval.

If the city fails to approve the annexation before they approve the new general plan, the city could still move forward with the annexation but the process would be delayed four to six months.

Those additional months would cost the city "time and money" by requiring additional public comment periods, meetings and legal reviews, said Donna Kenny, community development director for the city of Livingston. "We would have to reanalyze the entire project," she said, adding, "Every month that we delay means a missed development opportunity."

But why flinch at a few more months now, asked Amanda Carvajal, executive director for the Merced County Farm Bureau, who pointed out that Gallo first proposed the annexation back in 2004. "We don't oppose the project," she said. "What we oppose is the process that they're going through. We want to make sure they're doing their due diligence."

If the plan is approved in its current form, the property in question would be zoned for 210 acres of general industry, 100 acres of highway commercial and 30 acres of low-density residential.

The Livingston City Council will review the annexation plan at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 17. The deadline for public comment is Jan. 21. The council will have a chance to approve the plan at the meeting on Feb. 7.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 835-2486 or at jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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