Board narrowly approves cemetery

Stanislaus County supervisors, by a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, decided the needs of the Catholic community outweighed the desire to protect farmland.

With the narrow vote, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockton won approval to put a cemetery on Dakota Avenue, west of Highway 99 and Vintage Faire Mall.

Church officials have searched for more than eight years for a cemetery site to serve the five Catholic parishes in the county, because the St. Stanislaus cemetery on Modesto's Scenic Drive is nearly full.

The decision overturned the county Planning Commission's March 4 denial of the application and a staff recommendation to uphold the county's rules for preserving ag land.

Supervisor Dick Monteith said he believed the area, known as the Beckwith Triangle, will be developed as a business park and annexed to Modesto. Supervisors Bill O'Brien and Vito Chiesa joined Monteith in approving the 25-acre site. Supervisors Jeff Grover and Jim DeMartini were opposed.

"Where are you going to put the cemetery where you aren't going to have the same battle?" Monteith said.

Bishop Stephen Blaire, head of the diocese, urged the board to recognize the church's need for a consecrated burial ground for Catholics. He said he represented 192,000 people in the area and had church members filling the board chambers stand in favor of the project.

"It is deeply important for us, as Catholic people, to have a place to bury our dead," Blaire said.

Even though death is a certainty for people, church officials said, the county and Modesto zoning laws make almost no accommodation for cemeteries.

Monsignor Richard Ryan, vicar general of the diocese, said the Dakota Avenue site is centrally located for the parishes it will serve.

The diocese plans to develop the cemetery in four phases, with each phase taking 20 years. The facilities also will include a 2,000-square-foot maintenance building, an office, a fountain or statue, and eight garden mausoleums.

The diocese estimated that five funerals per week would take place between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Although the site is in the county, the city of Modesto designates the area for eventual business park development and job creation. City Planning Manager Patrick Kelly asked the board to go along with the county Planning Commission to protect Modesto's goals.

Farmers object

People who farm property near the site were opposed, saying the cemetery would interfere with farming operations.

"This is not a question of need," said Jake Wenger, who farms near the site. The land is some of richest farmland in the United States and can't be replaced, he said.

Church members said, however, that other rural cemeteries, including Lakewood near Hughson, are not a problem for agricultural operations.

"If you have a cemetery there, you have good neighbors," said Evelyn Schoon-over of Modesto. "Those people never bother you."

DeMartini noted that county planners turned down the diocese's 2003 request to put the cemetery on farmland near the southwest edge of Salida. That proposal was strongly opposed by Salida residents.

Land near Bronco rezoned

In another action, supervisors agreed to rezone 36 acres for expansion of the Bronco winery facility at East Keyes and Bystrum roads, near Ceres.

The Bronco Wine Co. plans to convert an on-site house to a shipping and receiving office, construct two 14,400-square-foot office buildings, a guard shack and truck scales, and provide parking for 345 employees and 32 trucks.

Bronco wants to start construction on the parking lot and two driveways on East Keyes Road in the fall. There is no schedule for the rest of the project; the offices will be built to accommodate expansion of wine processing operation, a staff report said.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at or 578-2321.