NEWMAN - Local leaders last week moved to alleviate concerns that current property owners whose land is being annexed into the city limits for the Northwest Newman project could be saddled with high costs to connect to municipal utilities.

The City Council approved a request from staff to strike a number of provisions contained in the previously-adopted implementation plan that spelled out guidelines under which current property owners would have to connect to water and sewer.

Owners of two involved properties had voiced objections to policy language which required the connections under certain circumstances and, in some cases, may have put the financial responsibility of extending main water or sewer lines on the property owners.

Members of the Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) also expressed concerns about those policies when addressing the city’s 121-acre annexation application in October. The commission approved the annexation nonetheless, noting that the matter of the implementation policy was not in their purview. Because the area is inhabited, however, affected registered voters and property owners still have the opportunity to protest - and could potentially block - the annexation.

In response to concerns, the city is striking requirements that property owners hook up to city water and sewer within a specified time frame of those services being available, removed language suggesting that property owners may have to extend main lines at their own expense and eliminated a requirement that property owners connect to city services if available should their existing well or septic system fail.

“I think those are the three concerns that most of the property owners had out there,” City Manager Michael Holland told the council.

Holland had previously offered assurances that property owners would not face mandates from the city, saying that despite the strict language of the its codes

and policies the city in practice has been flexible in working with property owners.

But the city backed those assurances by striking the policies in question, Holland said.

“We have continually tried to gain the trust of property owners and let them know that we are trying to plan for the future of Newman,” he commented. “The revisions were to build trust with the property owners that we are not trying to change their way of life. We are trying to do the right thing by them.”

Some of the codes initially reflected in the implementation policy dated back to the 1960s and were antiquated, Holland added.

“It wasn’t fair to put that in writing where it made them nervous about it,” he stated. “We just wanted to clarify that this is how we have been going about business and will continue to do so.”

Holland emphasized, though, that the exemptions apply only to the property owners of record at the time of annexation and do not transfer to successor owners.

Nor do the exemptions apply should a property owner develop the land.

“If someone sells their property or wants to develop their property, it is all fair game at that point,” Holland told the council. “They will have to come up to city code. I think that is the intent of the council.”

Holland said staff will reach out to residents and property owners in the annexation area, which roughly runs between Highway 33 and just west of Fig Lane from the existing city limits to Stuhr Road, to advise them of the changes in the program and field any questions regarding the annexation.

He reiterated that, while the overall 360-acre Northwest Newman is a mix of uses which includes business park, highway commercial, residential and more, the initial phase is focused on job generation.

Once annexed, he added, the city will also be able to make improvements to Jensen Road, which is well-traveled but at this time little more than a deteriorating one-lane roadway.

“We are going to have a great project,” Holland stated. “We are hoping to move forward so we can bring these jobs to our community.”

Council member Casey Graham said he believes the changes presented by staff were fairly addressed concerns that have been raised.

County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who sits on LAFCO, agreed.

“There were concerns about people having to pay to extend the main lines,” DeMartini said during comments to the council last week. “I think you made the right decision by eliminating that.”