In a 4-1 vote, the Ceres Planning Commission gave its blessing on Monday to a new phase of development – 94 acres on the east side of Ceres.
All the commissioners but Couper Condit liked the Whitmore Ranch Specific Plan and recommended that the Ceres City Council go along with the pre-zoning and annexation so that as many as 441 new dwelling units can be built south of Whitmore Avenue east of Moore Road and west of La Rosa Elementary School.
The council will review the project application on Monday, Nov. 13.
Condit expressed concerns about adding further stress on police and fire services and noted that new housing should be directed to the 960-acre West Landing Specific Plan. The newly annexed area in west Ceres includes 320 acres of already developed county facilities, leaving a balance of 640 acres for development potential – 200 acres for commercial and a business park and about 440 acres for residential housing. So far no developments have been proposed for West Landing.
Despite Condit’s concerns, subdivisions created by the annexation would be subject to a Community Facilities District to help pay for police, fire and park services. Commissioners Gary del Nero, Bob Kachel, David Johnson and Chairperson Laurie Smith were supportive of the project.
Monday’s vote mirrored the October 2016 the Planning Commission vote of 4-1 to send the 97-acre annexation on the east side to the council. The council reviewed the project two years ago and sent back to the drawing board for revisions. During that vote Councilwoman Linda Ryno voted no, saying how stretched police, fire and code enforcement services were already. Mayor Chris Vierra wanted to include more curvilinear streets and larger lots. He called for a refinement through a subcommittee of councilmembers to work with the developer.
The project includes more curved streets and redesigned a parkland area that goes through the entire project connecting Moore Road all the way to Cesar Chavez Junior High.
“In essence the project is really not that big,” said Tom Westbrook, city of Ceres Director of Community Development. “The annexation, being only 94 acres total and almost 40 of that is La Rosa Elementary and Cesar Chavez Junior High, doesn’t give it a lot of development potential here. It’s pretty small in the scheme of things considering the West Landing Annexation was 10 times bigger.”
Before Steve and Grant Alvernaz of Turlock may develop the land it must be annexed into the city of Ceres by the Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO). The panel may review the application in February or March.
The annexation would include both La Rosa Elementary and Cesar Chavez Junior High School as well as take lands presently zoned for agricultural use. The new conceptual plan shows:
• 28 acres used for 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 condo uses that could result in 160 dwelling units;
• 5.2 acres of open space, including a bike and pedestrian corridor leading to the junior high’s western boundary.
Westbrook said the annexation is being initiated and funded by a developer and is within the city’s primary sphere of influence. 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 opposition. She feels the project violates many of the guiding principles used to create the new General Plan. Cousins feels that encroaching on farmland is not a way of maintaining Ceres’ agricultural identity.
The project is subject to ag mitigation, which calls for a 1:1 replacement of the lost ag land with permanent set-asides of farm land.