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Judge will decide future of farmland slated for development

A lawsuit that could determine the fate of 185 acres of state-protected Merced County farmland — and perhaps the future of California’s premier farmland conservation law — is now in a judge’s hands.

The county approved plans in 2006 for a 2,600-home addition to the Fox Hills development just west of Los Banos. To do that, the county Board of Supervisors had to cancel a state Williamson Act contract that should have prohibited developing the land through 2015.

That move prompted the California Farm Bureau Federation to sue the county early last year. It argues the county violated the Williamson Act when it OK’d the Fox Hills expansion.

Parties in the suit met in Merced County Superior Court Tuesday morning for a final hearing. A judge is expected to issue a written ruling within 90 days.