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Wyatt spies annexation minus involved area plan
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Managing Editor of the

Ceres (Calif.) Courier

Dirk Wyatt may proceed with plans to seek annexation to the city of his 52 acres near Ceres River Bluff Regional Park without undergoing an areawide master plan.

Members of the Ceres City Council decided last week to excuse Wyatt from the requirement to undergo the expensive and lengthy process because his is a unique situation.

Years ago the city adopted a rule that development must be master planned on an areawide basis to avoid planning issues - such as traffic flow - rather than have smaller parcels sloppily developed on a piecemeal basis. The city makes some allowances, such as projects less than 10 acres in size or projects that present unique economic development opportunities that provide new jobs or sales tax revenue.

At the outset, Planning Director Ken Craig suggested that Wyatt does not qualify for a waiver. He said the size of the project, and proximity to Hatch Road and riparian habitat "necessitates a master plan."

While master plans may be desirable to city planners, developers dislike them because they add time and money to building homes.

Mayor Anthony Cannella asked why a master plan was needed since Wyatt's piece is technically the last piece in northeast Ceres to develop. His property is located north of Hatch Road, wedged between the eastern park boundary and an ag buffer zone. Cannella suggested that rather than master plan the parcel, Wyatt's land is already addressed in the general plan's studies a few years back. Craig suggested the general plan was "too general" to apply to Wyatt.

Still, asserted Cannella, Wyatt's project would have to undergo significant scrutiny before LAFCO, the agency that approves or rejects all annexation, would sign on. Craig said that LAFCO looks for something different, specifically whether or not the city can provide services to the site. The city, he said, also needs to think about meeting infrastructure needs and to also see if the design works in concert with what's already developed.

Cannella expressed his fear that if the council cuts Wyatt slack, Wyatt could turn around and subdivide the land after it's annexed. He suggested a compromise to which Wyatt agreed. The city will make the findings that the project is unique, in exchange for a development agreement that Wyatt will develop the entire parcel in which the city must approve. That agreement, the mayor said, will outline how the project develops.

Max Garcia of GDR Engineering, lobbied on Wyatt's behalf. Garcia said that while the areawide master plan policy is a "great policy," it mostly was put into effect to coordinate land uses by multiple owners while noting "this is owned by one owner."

Garcia noted, too, that since Wyatt's property falls under the Modesto Airport Safety Zone, he must develop at a lower density. The maximum number of homes that Wyatt can build is 49, he said, on a mix of larger and smaller lots. At least 13 of the 52 acres cannot be developed because it falls within the Tuolumne River flood plain.

"This is as close to an infill project as you can get," said Garcia.

Wyatt has the option of developing some of the land commercially.

The Ceres businessman and insurance agent said his project will be "something the city would be proud of."

His father, Jim Wyatt, notes that the housing market should pick up by the time the land is developed.

"I believe this is different," said Councilman Ken Lane, who expressed hopes of a successful annexation request. "You're looking at 2-and-a-half acre lots."