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Planners pick land use for General Plan update
City map
A map showing land use designations in Alternative #2. - photo by Courtesy of the city of Ceres

How should Ceres grow in the next 20 years?

Members of the Ceres Planning Commission last week studied the matter and made a recommendation to the City Council on a Preferred Land Use Alternative for the update of the city's General Plan. Commissioners voted 4-1 in support of Alternative #2, dubbed the Southern Industrial Cluster alternative which can accommodate more commercial development than the other two.

The City Council will consider that recommendation on Monday, March 27. The alternative it chooses will become the foundation for the new General Plan. Once selected, a consultant will begin to write the Draft General Plan and study environmental impacts.

Tom Westbrook, the city's Community Development director, said "one of the most important decisions Ceres will make about future growth is the location and intensity of new land uses."

The new General Plan is intended to guide the growth in Ceres through 2035, although Westbrook said that it is "very unlikely that any of these growth projections would be realized by the year 2035." How fast Ceres will develop depends on market and economic conditions which drive development in the public sector.

According to projections, build-out of each alternative could support approximately a 50 percent increase in Ceres housing units, from the current 13,800 homes to 20,700 units. The growth plan alternatives may also 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.

The growth from that projected development, said Westbrook, has the potential to give the city budget a surplus of approximately $1.7 million to $2.2 million, with alternatives 2 and 3 being the most fiscally beneficial for city coffers.

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 and the possible development of Faith Home Road as an expressway complete with a new bridge spanning the Tuolumne River, which would allow truck deliveries to the Beard Industrial Tract from Highway 99 without going down Mitchell Road.

Commissioners Gary Del Nero, Hugo Molina, Bob Kachel and Laurie Smith stated a preference for Alternative #2. Commissioner Couper Condit said he preferred #2 but doesn't feel like any of the three alternatives do much toward preserving Ceres ties to agriculture. He said he wanted to see more public input and make a decision at a later date.

Kachel said if residents want to see no growth they can have that addressed as a "no project alternative" in the environmental review process. He said he didn't see a benefit to waiting and felt like there has been plenty of public input.

"I like the jobs/housing balance, the increase in the General Fund revenue, obviously the industrial designation down in the Service Road area," offered Smith.

Chairman Del Nero said he entered the meeting in support of #3 but changed his mind after hearing the opposition from the public.

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 State Route 99 and turn it into General Industrial.

The commission disliked:

1). Modified Existing General Plan. This alternative would retain most aspects of the existing General Plan land use diagram, with an adjustment to take advantage of the interchange reconstruction at Service Road. It designates land around the new interchange, once built, as Regional Commercial instead of the current Business Park and Commercial Recreation designations). The Regional Commercial designation is also expanded to include more flexibility in allowable uses. The area affected by this change is primarily west of Highway 99 and south of Service Road.

Alternative 1 would not change the amount of land designated for farming.

3). Eastern Industrial Corridor. This alternative would establish a future industrial corridor on Ceres' eastern edge, and focus new residential development in the south. Like the first two alternatives, #3 proposes designating most of the land in the southeast as Regional Commercial in order to best position the city for future economic development opportunities linked to the reconstruction of the freeway interchange. Parcels along the eastern side of Faith Home Road are designated Industrial Reserve - reserve designations indicate a lower likelihood of development within the 20-year planning - while two parcels north of Faith Home Road are designated as General Industrial, anticipating their nearer-term development. Parcels south and southeast of the Wastewater Treatment Facility have been designated as Regional Park and Residential, instead of Industrial Reserve.

Alternative 3 would also create a hard eastern edge for Ceres with a quarter-mile wide strip of Industrial Reserve, and agriculture on the east side of Faith Home Road, but would still allow for connection to the Beard Industrial Park in Modesto through the planned improvements to Faith Home Road and a future connection to Modesto over the Tuolumne River.

Alternative 3 could accommodate more industrial jobs than the other two. It would also have the greatest potential for direct impacts to farmland since it would designate the most land from agriculture to urban uses.

At workshops conducted by the city earlier this year, opinions of the community varied with a consensus that development should take place in vacant areas of Ceres with an emphasis on adding uses in downtown and preservation of farmland. Participants of the Jan. 25 workshop supported the idea of leveraging the Faith Home Road expressway project to support new, good jobs in Ceres and to divert truck traffic from Mitchell Road. If the Faith Home-Garner bridge over the Tuolumne River does not become a reality, participants said they would prefer a greenbelt between Hughson and Ceres. Another group discussed their support for industrial development along Faith Home Road rather than in the proposed location of Alternative 2. That was the least popular of the three alternatives.

Pat Cousins, whose family has farmed in the Faith Home/Roeding area since 1905, expressed dislike of alternative #3.

Ray Dias liked alternative #2 and said alternative #3 was a "completely contrary to the objective of maintaining a connection to the ag heritage by making a hard wall with that reserve industrial section on Faith Home Road."

Alyssa Long also opposed alternative #3 and also wondered how Ceres would deal with growth since the city relies on Turlock to dispose of wastewater and is already understaffed in police and fire protection.

Mary Jane Schueber liked alternative #2, saying she is not opposed to industrial growth but not like alternative #3 spells out along Faith Home Road.

"Let's not put a loose on the east side," said Schueber, who said she preferred nicer scale homes on the east side.

Jeannie Knox was drawn to #1 and #2, suggesting that industries at the south end of Ceres next to the freeway makes sense for jobs. As a resident on the east side, Knox said #3 "ruins the eastern edge of Ceres and the transition between Ceres' actively producing farmland and the community of Hughson."

Leonard Shepherd suggested "curtailing growth of people for a while, while you concentrate on growing jobs."

Duane Thompson disliked all three alternatives because they create opportunities for approximately 6,500 new homes, or about 22,000 new residents.

Lourdes Perez suggested a hybrid of alternatives #2 and #3 with a higher concentration of lighter industrial and commercial for jobs generation. She said she was concerned with industrial uses near residential and schools.

Dirk Wyatt, who owns property on Hatch Road near where a new Garner-Faith Home connection would take place, disliked alternative #3 since it would make land he wants to build low-density homes on as general industrial.

Renee Ledbetter, president of the Ceres Chamber, endorsed alternative #2 saying it would lead to the "most positive economic impact for the city" with the development of commercial and industrial space.

"It offers the least amount of housing units and the second highest percentage of non-residential development, which I think helps alleviate the whole bedroom community dilemma that we're facing right now," said Ledbetter.