The city will seek to add 94 more acres to the Ceres limits next year after the City Council voted 3-1 last week to approve the Whitmore Ranch Specific Plan.
The project would add up to 441 new dwelling units to Ceres south of Whitmore Avenue between Moore Road and Cesar Chavez Junior High School.
Mayor Chris Vierra recused himself from the item because of a conflict of interest with the proponent. Vice Mayor Mike Kline and Councilmen Bret Durossette and Ken Lane supported the project against the lone objections of Councilwoman Linda Ryno over small lot sizes and traffic impact issues.
The annexation included both La Rosa Elementary and Cesar Chavez Junior High School as well as lands presently zoned for agricultural use.
The plan calls for:
• 28 acres earmarked for the development of low-density residential uses, or 196 single-family homes with an average lot size of 5,000 square feet;
• 6.6 acres of medium-density residential uses, or 85 dwelling units with an average lot size of 3,000 square feet;
• 6.4 acres of high-density apartment or condominiums that could result in 160 living units;
• 5.2 acres of open space, including a bike and pedestrian corridor leading to the junior high’s western boundary.
The council reviewed the project in 2017 but sent it back to the drawing board for design changes, specifically to grant better access to the La Rosa Elementary and Cesar Chavez Junior High school campuses. That future access will occur with a long park strip running through the project that will have pathways for pedestrians and bicyclists. At that time, it was suggested that some councilmembers did not want to see smaller lot sizes. When it came back for review last week Ryno balked that lots sized as small as 5,000 square feet were being allowed.
Ryno noted that at prior meetings, the council preferred lots sizes of 6,200 square feet and wondered the developer could build as small as 5,000.
“Personally I just can’t even imagine another subdivision where you have a lot size of 5,000 square feet,” said Ryno. “Me personally, I think in this day and age we have so many neighbors that can’t seem to get along with each other and it’s like you’re going to even cram them in even closer than say a whole neighborhood like I live in.”
Ryno also has concerns about increasing traffic on Whitmore Avenue. Westbrook said opening up access from the south will help alleviate all the traffic to the two schools that must now go through the only access on Whitmore.
She also stated her belief that the fees to be paid by the developer into a Community Facilities District wouldn’t fully cover the costs of providing police, fire and maintenance of the new park.
Councilman Lane said he served on a subcommittee of councilmembers who met with the developer and sees the need for smaller lot sizes for affordability reasons.
Vice Mayor Mike Kline said he wouldn’t support the project if it were east of the schools.
Development standards call for:
• Low-density single-family homes with either front-loaded houses to not be dominated by garage doors, such as by recessed garages or rear garage configurations; or rear-loaded homes where garages are provided from and accessed by alleys.
• Medium-density homes facing the long park strip which will be rear-loaded or garages accessible from behind in an alley.
• High-density apartments over six acres that could include stacked flats, court homes or garden apartments and be designed with bike or pedestrian traffic in mind.
Market conditions will dictate how fast the area is built out but the developer suggested over the next five to 10 years.
Kline had some general questions about how the project would impact traffic, especially on Whitmore Avenue. He was told that eventually Whitmore will have a median with a signal fully operational at Boothe Road.
Community Development Director Tom Westbrook said the annexation is being initiated and funded by Steve and Grant Alvernaz, owners of a 20-acre chunk of the project. He commented that the annexation is orderly because at the eastern end sit both schools, of which La Rosa Elementary was built in 2005. Currently the schools sit in county jurisdiction yet the city supplies services to them. The city committed in the future to bring the campuses into the city limits when it originally agreed to supply water and sewer service to them.
Westbrook indicated that the city’s recent upgrade of sewer trunks down Mitchell Road to Service Road were, in part, to accommodate growth on Ceres’ east side.
Patricia Melugin Cousins, whose family has lived on Roeding Road for over a century, voiced her continuous opposition because of its effect on neighboring farm uses. She thanked Planning Commissioner Couper Condit for casting the lone vote against the project in October.
“I think your city seal should be shrouded because the Whitmore Ranch project mocks that city seal,” said Cousins. She was referring to the seal as it features rows of ag crops.
Whitmore Ranch is subject to ag mitigation, which calls for a 1:1 replacement of the lost ag land with permanent set-asides of farm land.
One property owner, a Mr. Campbell, whose property is included in the annexation suggested that he didn’t wish to be included. Tom Westbrook said he can ask to be excluded during the hearing at the Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission, or SLAFCO. Campbell was also told that the use of his property will not change until he or future owners wish to change it for development.
Jeanie Knox, a Roeding Road resident, protested, saying “the more we push into ag land the harder it is to find local well-grown quality food for those residents.” She said pushing homes closer to farms makes it harder to dust their trees with chemicals.
“You’re putting a heck of a lot of pressure on Whitmore (Avenue) by adding, what is it, almost a thousand homes in that area?” she added.
Dave Romano, representing the Alvernaz family, called Whitmore Ranch a great project that is “crying out for development.”
“The school would not have gone down there if they weren’t expecting to be next to a land use that wasn’t residential,” said Romano. “And so this project kind of helps fill that little in-fill area and also gives the opportunity to develop the south side of Whitmore Avenue so it looks more finished, kids can walk on the north and south side of the road, put in a signal in at Boothe and really just interconnect the community. It’s a wonderful plan – it’s kind of walkable and connectable.”
The first phase will complete Esmar Road to Standford Avenue to better connect the existing schools to traffic.