Slow-growth advocates say the city is ignoring the voice of the voters and plowing ahead with plans to annex land into Modesto. City officials disagree.
The issue will get a public airing at tonight's Planning Commission meeting, when the commission will hear a report about proposed amendments to the city's general plan, the document that guides Modesto's growth.
The general plan amendments would change restrictions on how land can be used in six areas, opening them up to different kinds of development. For example, land designated for residential development could be switched to commercial development.
Some of the areas are the same pieces of land voters saw on their ballots in the fall. Voters were asked to weigh in on whether to extend sewer service to five areas outside the city, a move that eventually could have led to 3,000 acres of new development.
The ballot measures were advisory, meaning the City Council could take or leave voters' input. Voters rejected all five measures.
Now some say the city is circumventing the voters' will. Some of the same areas voters rejected would be given new land-use designations under the proposals.
Critics say changing the land-use designations is tantamount to moving forward with annexing the land, paving the way to development.
"I find it absolutely astounding that, given the vote in November rejecting all the ballot measures, that there could be any movement going forward," said Eric Reimer, a member of the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association, which opposed one of the November growth measures. "This is obviously intending to further annexation."
Reimer said the Sierra Club is rallying members to speak out at tonight's meeting.
City staff members say the general plan amendments have nothing to do with how fast the land would be annexed.
"The change in land use doesn't make the annexation process happen any sooner," said Brad Wall, a principal planner with the city. "Annexation is driven by private developers."
Wall said changing land-use designations for certain areas will modernize the city's general plan and make it more realistic. For example, the city's 1995 general plan staked out 660 acres along Highway 132 as business park land. But the area is mostly agricultural, which means it's "not likely" to develop into a business park anytime soon, Wall said. It's more realistic to change its designation to mixed use and residential, he said.
The proposed land-use switches are meant to create job-friendly development, Wall said. A proposed switch along Kiernan Avenue would change the land use from residential to business-commercial-residential.
"It's meant to facilitate job creation, rather than just commuter homes for people driving to the Bay Area," Wall said.
The commission won't take any action on the matter tonight. It's only hearing a report about the proposed general plan amendments. The City Council eventually will have to vote on the amendments. But that's not likely to happen until at least 2012, Wall said.
The areas the general plan amendments would change include:
Kiernan Avenue Corridor. For three areas along the north and south sides of Kiernan between Stoddard Road and McHenry Avenue, proposed changes include switching 500 acres from residential to business-commercial- residential.
Hetch-Hetchy. Sixty acres along Oakdale Road between Claribel Road and Claratina Avenue would switch from residential to regional commercial.
Other proposed changes are in the areas of Roselle Avenue and Claribel, Highway 132, Paradise and Carpenter roads, and Beckwith Road and Dakota Avenue.
Tonight's meeting has another agenda item that could draw attention: a public hearing on neighborhood compatibility guidelines. The new guidelines are meant to address concerns about second-story additions on homes.
The Planning Commission will meet tonight at 7 in the basement chambers of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.