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Livingston seeks comments from public regarding future growth

LIVINGSTON — The city's future will soon go from paper to possible.

The revised general plan was released last month, and the final day for residents and agencies to offer their thoughts on the growth guidebook is Aug. 29.

Once the comments are received, the 154-page general plan and the 724-page environmental analysis that goes with it will head to the Planning Commission and to the City Council for approval.

Why should residents care? Because this is the culmination of years of planning that will shape how the city grows. You don't think there should be so much land for businesses along Highway 99? Speak up now. Want the city to have more high-density housing? Now's the time to say so.

Even though construction is nearly at a standstill, the plan, which looks out to 2025, is important because the construction will return someday.

The general plan is available at City Hall on CD for free and can also be downloaded from Livingston's Web site. Printed copies can be read at the library and senior center.

The city's main goal is to expand westward to Washington Boulevard, southward to Westside Boulevard and eastward to Cressey Way. It also wants to capitalize on the Sultana Drive interchange by encouraging businesses to build there.

Development also needs to pay for itself funding improvements to the roads, water system and sewer plant, according to the plan.

Livingston, currently at 2,225 acres, is looking to add about 1,700 acres of land for homes into its sphere of influence, a planning area that will eventually become part of the city. It will also bring in about 700 acres for businesses to develop.

The plan has remained a sensitive issue for some of the city's farmers to the west, such as Gerri Martin, who know they'll see and feel changes to their landscape. "There will be conflicts between ag and house," she intoned.

Martin has remained one of the vocal critics of the general plan, especially because it relies on unprecedented growth levels. PMC West, the consultant that wrote the plan, reckoned that the city of 13,800 could have about 72,000 residents by 2024."Why are they doing this? I don't have a clue," she said. "I know it won't happen."

She was pleased to see some small, yet significant, changes to the plan. One is that the city won't annex land covered by the Williamson Act, a state law that protects farms by giving owners property tax discounts when they agree to keep it as agricultural land.

Another is that there will be a 100-foot buffer between farms and development.

The consultant also said the city should look at other areas to place a sewer treatment plant instead of just expanding the current one toward her home. "They made some changes that are good, but it still has a long way to go," Martin said. The language for some of the policies ought to be changed from "the city should ... " to "the city shall ... ," she said. The stronger language is the only way to protect farmland, she explained.

City Manager Richard Warne said the growth predictions are based on scenarios that every square foot of the city's proposed expansion were to be built up. The general plans makes sure that as the city grows, the roads and sewer pipes built will be large enough to handle more people.

Livingston will go through periods of fast and slow growth, he noted:

"The cities that make a mistake are the ones that don't plan for the future."