The Ceres City Council approved an updated city General Plan Monday after two and a half years of planning.
The new General Plan is intended to guide the growth in Ceres through 2035, said Community Development Director Tom Westbrook. Part of crafting a new general plan required the city to analyze the impacts on the environment as dictated by the California Environmental Quality Act and to adopt mitigation measures.
"It's a very exciting day," said Westbrook on Monday evening. "We're at the goal line of the general plan update process."
The process began in November 2015 with visioning workshops with residents and stakeholders. The public review closed on March 26. On April 30 the Ceres Planning Commission voted to recommend that the City Council approve the update and certify the accompanying Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
Two sticky points of the update was:
• How to treat Faith Home Road, which originally has been planned for decades as a six-lane expressway;
• Zoning for land at McGee and Roeding roads near the Berryhill school campus occupied as Whitmore Charter schools. Originally the city wanted to zone the area for light industrial use but commissioners recommended taking it to low-density residential.
The Planning Commission agreed that Faith Home - which is now a two lane road - should be a four-lane road through Ceres. The council agreed on Monday.
Like she has done in the past, rural resident Patricia Cousins lobbied for Faith Home to remain two lanes but said four lanes was "certainly better than six but two is better than four." She said the city should remain committed to preserving prime ag land surrounding the city.
Ray Dias, who owns property on Faith Home Road, asked the city to assess all traffic needs in the future rather than impact the estimated 60 residents who live along its many miles. He stated his opposition to the designation as an expressway.
The county is planning to develop Faith Home Road as an alternative route for truckers to access the Beard Industrial Tract from Highway 99 by constructing a new bridge spanning the Tuolumne River, which would connect Ceres with Garner Road north of the river.
Mayor Chris Vierra suggested that the Faith Home project is a "much bigger undertaking than most people understand" but said planning is necessary.
"It's not saying we're going to be building it today or tomorrow or even in my lifetime but it's something that we need to properly plan for which is what I think they did in 1997 when they thought they needed six lanes and we're going four," said Vierra.
Ceres Unified School District Supt. Scott Siegel spoke in favor of nixing the light industrial zoning plans near the Berryhill campus.
"The district's position is that it should be a residential area adjacent to the school - it should not be light industrial," said Siegel. "That is due to the health and welfare impacts that a light industrial usage on those lots directly adjacent to our playgrounds would have."
Councilman Ken Lane suggested perhaps designating the zoning for higher density residential near the school. Councilwoman Linda Ryno disagreed with Lane. He motioned for the change but it failed in the vote.
The general plan encompasses 14,700 acres, including the city limits, Ceres' sphere of influence, adjacent unincorporated areas and Mancini Park. The boundaries for the updated General Plan are nearly the same of the boundaries of the 1997 plan but are being tweaked largely by future road designs, including the Service/Mitchell freeway interchange.
The selected alternative, the Southern Industrial Cluster, would create a cluster of industrial uses within southeast portion of the planning area. The alternative would provide greater industrial development close to the freeway on a wider variety of parcel sizes than currently exists. The cluster would take the place of currently designated (but undeveloped) residential uses. Parcels along Highway 99 have been designated Regional Commercial and further along 99 are designated as Service Commercial. It would take a large area designated for residential use south of Service Road and west of Highway 99 and turn it into General Industrial.
The new General Plan has the capacity for Ceres to produce about 6,500 new housing units and with it an additional 22,000 residents; and over 12 million to 14 million square feet of new non-residential development, or commercial, industrial and office space.
Sophie Martin, the consultant's project manager on the General Plan update, said the General Plan's development capacity is not likely to be what could develop over the 20-year time frame. She said "there is more than enough land capacity within the General Plan planning area to serve the city's needs much beyond the year 2035, so really it's going to be the market and other forces that determine how much development occurs."
The growth plan alternatives may also could result in four times the amount of existing office space, six times the commercial space, and two times the industrial space currently in the city. Westbrook said any of the three alternatives has the capacity to accommodate a 50 percent increase in Ceres' population of 47,000 and a 400 percent increase jobs.
State law mandates that each city and county adopt a comprehensive, long-term general plan. The purpose is to plan for important community issues such as new growth, housing needs, and environmental protection. For example, a general plan is used to project future demand for services such as sewer, water, roadways, parks, and emergency services.
The general plan consists of six elements. They are the Land Use and Community Design, Transportation & Circulation, Agricultural and Natural Resources, Health & Safety, Public Facilities and Services and Economic and Community Development. The Housing Element is not included in the update as it is on its own schedule.
The environmental document is available for download from the city of Ceres' website at www.ci.ceres.ca.us or from the Ceres General Plan Update website at www.ceresgeneralplanupdate.com.