State

County nixes driving range

A majority of Stanislaus County supervisors took a dramatic stand for farming Tuesday in a narrow vote dooming a golf driving range proposed north of Turlock.

The divisive issue should bring new discussions about establishing no-build greenbelt zones between other communities such as Modesto and its Salida and Riverbank neighbors, Supervisor Vito Chiesa said.

Such buffers are considered essential to turning back sprawl, planning experts say.

Several Turlockers said the city lacks recreational opportunities for people young and old. High school and university coaches sent letters supporting the idea of a 20-acre driving range near Highway 99, north of Taylor Road.

County and Turlock officials agreed 22 years ago to preserve farmland north of Taylor, except for a strip of freeway development. Farmland advocates frequently pointed to the official agreement as an example of "things that go right in Stanislaus County," said Denny Jackman, chairman of the Farmland Working Group.

Developer Dennis Wilson of Horizon Consulting noted that county officials over the years have approved five driving ranges in rural areas with the same zoning as land north of Taylor Road. Driving ranges in urban areas, meanwhile, aren't compatible with homes and some have been forced out, he said.

Driving range supporters included former Turlock Mayor Brad Bates, who said county leaders have allowed Denair and Keyes to creep toward the city while Turlock has held the line. He asked supervisors to be flexible.

"It's really about the youth in the area," said Turlock resident Todd Smith, who said golf teaches valuable life skills. He took his sons to a driving range in the city before it closed many years ago, he said, and now they have to drive several miles to hit a bucket of balls.

But people living and farming north of Taylor Road said they want no conflicts with urban development.

"We feel if this is allowed it would just open the door to the future growth in this area," said Teri Nascimento, who filed the appeal to county planning commissioners' March approval of the driving range.

Al Brizzard of Waterford said, "No one could equate a golf driving range to ag use."

The majority of supervisors agreed, with Chiesa, Jeff Grover and Jim DeMartini voting to uphold the buffer. In the minority were Supervisors Bill O'Brien and Dick Monteith.

Chiesa, whose district includes Turlock, said he agonized over the issue and predicted he might not sleep well "because I can make the argument either way." Air-tight agreements on buffers between communities would help future decision makers to avoid such struggles, he said.

Grover said he is a golfer, considers Wilson to be a close friend and admires the lack of complaints from farmers next to a driving range on north McHenry Avenue.

"I couldn't agree more that the city of Turlock needs a golf practice facility. But I don't think it needs it here," Grover said. "I don't want to be a part of turning around a decision made a long time ago."

Supervisors had not taken up by press time consideration of a new animal shelter design and low-cost spay and neuter clinic for pets.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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