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Duarte protests development fee on annexed land

Jim Duarte spent over a half-hour at the April 27 Ceres City Council meeting arguing why he shouldn't reimburse the initiators of the 960-acre West Landing annexation for his share of master plan costs should he ever develop his property.

"My goal is to not pay the money," Duarte told the council.

In 2012 property owners G3 Enterprises, Rutland Properties and B.S. Boyle Jr. Limited Partnership won approval to annex 960 acres to the city of Ceres. Before the annexation could be processed, a master plan had to be done. Other properties were included since LAFCO does not approve piecemeal annexations in favor of larger master planned areas for better community development. It's typical for those other property owners to reimburse the annexation proponent if and when they sell their property for housing development since they would have to pay for master planning of their project anyway.

The total cost of West Landing's planning and annexation came to $1.29 million.

The Duarte family owns nearly 40 acres along Service Road. Jim and Anita Duarte owned a sixth of the property at the time of the annexation and didn't protest the annexation. Jim Duarte bought all the property last summer and last week protested being forced to pay the $2,240.58 per acre reimbursement - a fee that only has to be paid if he develops the land , which is currently planted in almonds.

Owners of 602 acres are expected to ultimately reimburse G3 Enterprises, Rutland Properties and B.S. Boyle Jr. Limited Partnership.

Duarte, who owns Duarte Nursery near Hughson, did not get his way but did win a pledge that he would not be subjected to $35 in interest charges that would accrue each year up to the point of development. He said he has no plans to turn the land over to development, however.

"I can't find anybody who knew about this thing," Duarte said of the reimbursement plan.

Duarte claims he lost property rights because of the annexation, citing that he couldn't place an agricultural easement on the property nor build an almond huller because it's now in the city. However, Duarte bought the land knowing it had been annexed.

"How can you charge me for fees you spent on property that you had no jurisdiction over ... without getting my signature that it's okay to do it?" Duarte asked the council.

When he called the reimbursement fee a "lien against my property," he was corrected by Dave Romano, a representative of the developer, who said it wasn't a lien and that Duarte or future land owners would pay "their fair share" when their land is developed.

"It's not recorded against the property," said Romano. "It's really just a development fee."

Romano said he didn't think the fee was a surprise to the property owners and called it a modest fee, citing one fee in northwest Modesto of $6,600 per acre.

Mayor Chris Vierra wasn't sympathetic to Duarte when he said "if my neighbor spends his money that's his business but don't charge me for it."

"This discussion occurred a long time ago and if there was no desire to be a part of the annexation you should have raised your hand at that point and said ‘I don't want to be involved,'" said Vierra. "Now you're coming to me after you've been through the process and I could say you wanted the process and took part in it and now you don't."

The annexation area is bounded by Whitmore Avenue to the north, Service Road to the south, the Union Pacific Railroad tracks to the east and Ustick Road on the west. The plan includes the annexation of the G3 plant - once the Proctor & Gamble plant - as well as the Stanislaus County government complex.

The annexation area will likely develop over decades. It's estimated that West Landing could result in the addition of 12,000 new residents in Ceres as well as beef up commercial, office and industrial space as far west to Ustick Road.

The West Landing master plan calls for:

• A housing mix of 293 acres, or 1,310 multi-family units and 2,325 single-family houses;

• 34 acres of regional commercial acres;

• 884,200 square feet of retail commercial;

• 383,910 square feet of office uses;

• 802,100 square feet of light industrial;

• 174 acres of county facilities that already exist at the corner of Crows Landing and Service roads.

• 47 acres of parkland;

• 16 acres for schools.