NEWMAN - The city will try once again to annex property to begin development of its Northwest Newman master plan, with an emphasis on bringing land designated for job-generating development into the city.

The city’s initial annexation effort, which involved 121 acres west of Highway 33 stretching from the northern city limits to Stuhr Road, was rejected by registered voters living in that area.

Now, the city has pared its annexation proposal to 65 acres held by landowners viewed as supportive of bringing their property into the city limits.

The City Council approved the annexation referral to the Stanislaus County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) last week after a detailed staff presentation and discussion.

City Manager Michael Holland said the new configuration maintains the city’s emphasis on job creation. Of the 65 acres proposed for annexation, 44 acres are dedicated to business park uses. Ten acres are earmarked for professional office use, five acres are set aside for community commercial uses, roadways will take five acres of property and one acre is residential.

Holland said that a dozen landowners representing 14 parcels in the proposed annexation area were notified of the city’s plans. Owners representing over 90 percent of the proposed annexation area responded to affirm their desire to be annexed, Holland said, and no objections were filed.

The annexation would be the first phase of the 360-acre Northwest Newman plan, which is a mix of residential, business park, commercial and other land uses.

“One out of 65 acres is residential. The other land is all job-generating,” Holland told the City Council. “We are trying to emphasize job generation and economic development for our community.”

David White, president and CEO of Opportunity Stanislaus, the county’s economic development organization, wrote a letter in support of the business park concept. A 60-acre business park, he estimated, could create more than 700 well-paying jobs and generate a direct economic impact in wages alone of $43 million per year.

One potential issue, however, is concern that the annexation as proposed would create an “island” of unincorporated area within the city because property owners opposed to annexation have been carved out.

That concern has been raised by representatives of the Central California Irrigation District (CCID), who again brought the matter to the attention of the council last week.

While those properties surrounded by the city would continue to be served by the irrigation district, said CCID General Manager Jarrett Martin, “the issue is that this is not consistent with public districts and being contiguous. This would create an island within my district surrounded by the city of Newman.”

He said that could be resolved by excluding one parcel in one area of the proposed annexation or two others in another area.

Martin later told Mattos Newspapers that CCID is not taking a position in support of or opposition to the proposed annexation - but emphasized that the district wants to see the policies against the creation of islands adhered to.

“I think there are some opportunities for the city to do some strategic expansion while being consistent with the city and CCID policies of being contiguous and getting it through LAFCO successfully,” Martin said. “We are here to help solve problems. We see a potential problem, and we want to help work through it.”

But Holland said the owners of the three properties referenced by Martin have all requested inclusion - and two of the three parcels are essential if the city is to be able to improve Jensen Road between Highway 33 and Fig Lane.

Others also raised the issue.

“If it is an island, it would be a concern of LAFCO,” said Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who chairs the commission. “There is also a little finger going out to the west that is not really consistent with LAFCO.”

Sara Lytle-Pinhey, executive officer of LAFCO, said that state law generally prohibits the creation of such islands.

One provision allowing an exemption, she said, is a commission finding that application of the island restriction would be detrimental to the orderly development of the community.

The agency will accept comments from CCID as it considers the annexation request, she added.

The council added a finding to its resolution requesting annexation that creation of the island is not detrimental to the orderly development of the city.

It was noted by Holland that the city’s initial annexation proposal would not have resulted in creation of an island.

“If we would have been able to go with (the initial proposal) we would not have created that island, but those property owners did not want to participate,” he stated.

Residential development was another question raised.

Council member Casey Graham asked about the inventory of remaining lots within the existing city limits.

“Do we have more housing opportunities still available in the community? We want slow, controlled growth but we are running short on homes and lots,” Graham said.

Holland acknowledged that a limited amount of land remains for infill development, comprising slightly more than 100 lots.

Northwest Newman will in time create 1,200 residential units of various types, Holland said, but the initial focus is on economic development.

“At some point the city will have to consider annexing additional land for residential development. It was not included in this,” Holland explained. “We still have to bring infrastructure into the business park before we can serve residential.”

Holland later told Mattos Newspapers that the city’s intent is to get infrastructure in place serving the business park, which can then be extended to serve future residential growth.

“It would be more market-driven,” he said of future residential development.

Improvements to Jensen Road are a high priority if the annexation moves forward, he told Mattos Newspapers.

Holland said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the annexation will go through.

“I think we have strong property owner support, which is something that the council wanted,” Holland commented. “It is not the original one we wanted, but we think there is strong planning behind it.”