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A diagram depicts the 53-acre Northwest Newman Phase I annexation approved by Stanislaus LAFCO last week.

The proposed annexation of 53 acres of land northwest of Newman was approved by Stanislaus County’s land use authority last Wednesday, April 28.

The Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) voted 4-1 to approve the annexation despite objections from some surrounding landowners and concerns that the proposal will create an “island” of unincorporated land within the city.

The annexation remains subject to a protest hearing of property owners.

The annexation represents the first phase of the city’s planned 360-acre Northwest Newman project and be earmarked primarily for development of a business park.

Newman City Manager Michael Holland advised the commission that annexing the 14 parcels involved is critical to promote economic development - and eventually residential growth in future Northwest Newman phases - opportunities in the city.

“We are essentially out of land in the City of Newman,” Holland told the commission.

“There is a lot of economic growth on the West Side. We wanted to plan so that we could capture some of that job generation in our community so we don’t have as many residents having to commute out of town,” he added.

Holland said the city has “some large property owners (in the annexation area) who are ready to move forward with business park development.”

During the city’s most recent general plan process, he pointed out, residents sent a clear message that they wanted to see master-planned growth rather than piecemeal development. The Northwest Newman master plan reflects that directive, Holland said, and starting with a smaller annexation is a logical first step.

“We didn’t think it was appropriate to annex 300 acres at one time, knowing that it is a 20-year buildout and that we wanted to respect ag,” he explained.

The annexation follows a failed attempt a year ago to bring in 121 acres of land west of Highway 33 between the current city limits and Stuhr Road. That annexation went to an election of registered voters living in the affected area and was voted down.

Because the current annexation area is considered uninhabited (with fewer than 12 registered voters), said LAFCO Executive Officer Sara Lytle-Pinhey, landowners will determine the protest. If landowners representing 50 percent or more of the assessed value of land within the area submit protests, the annexation will be terminated, she explained.

The city, in response to its failed 121-acre annexation bid, reconfigured the proposal to focus on including landowners who are supportive of having their property annexed, Holland said, while respecting the views of those who wanted to remain unincorporated.

LAFCO staff noted one email from a property owner in the area who was opposed to annexation due to potential restrictions.

Doing so created a three-parcel island immediately west of Highway 33 which will be encircled by city property - a scenario which typically is prohibited.

Exemptions can apply, however, and with the Newman application commissioners eventually voted to move the annexation forward despite that concern.

A number of residents spoke out against the annexation.

Sherri Marsigli, who holds ownership interest in one of the three “island” properties, said the city rather than market forces were pushing the annexation.

When it comes to the number of jobs that can be created by the business park and income generated, she stated, “I think that they are numbers picked out of a hat. I don’t think that has been verified in any way, shape or form. I don’t really understand how it is orderly growth.”

Rosaline Clark, another property owner in the area which would be left an unincorporated island, said the city’s approach to carve dissenters out of the annexation area while including those favorable to annexation reminded her of gerrymandering.

“I’m not sure that it is a good plan. I think it has to be looked at more carefully,” Clark stated. “Are we pushing it because we need it or are we appeasing developers?”

“It feels kind of threatening to live in the island,” Clark continued. “On two sides we will have a business park. It will change our lifestyle. I am opposed to it because of the impact it has on the surrounding area.”

Residents in the North Manor area, which is adjacent to the annexation area, also expressed concern.

“North Manor is the nicest neighborhood with the lowest density in Newman, and we’re going to build a business park right behind our homes,” Dennis Hatfield said during the LAFCO hearing. “Many of us are against it. We don’t feel the plan is thought out well enough.”

He stated that low-density residential development would be the better use beyond the current North Manor project.

Concerns in part focused on the annexed property being in a flood plain. Some questioned whether structures would have to be built on high pads - using the Taco Bell as an example - and whether that development would push more floodwaters onto their property.

Holland addressed those concerns.

He explained that the area immediately behind North Manor/Real Court would be designated for professional offices which would have to go through a variety of city review and approval processes.

In regard to the flood plain concerns, Holland said that the Northwest Newman project area is at a higher elevation than the Taco Bell site at the south edge of Newman and would require less significant mitigation measures. In any case, Holland explained, those developing in the Northwest Newman project would be required to engineer their projects in a way that they manage storm runoff without impacting neighboring land. “It is illegal to drain water onto somebody else’s property,” the city manager emphasized.

Water rights of the property in the island to be created were also a topic of concern. Jarrett Martin, general manager of the Central California Irrigation District, confirmed to Mattos Newspapers that water rights to properties which remain unincorporated will not be impacted by the surrounding annexation. Those properties which are annexed will no longer have Tier I water rights, Martin had previously explained.

Ultimately, the commission voted to approve the annexation - subject to the protest process.

Commissioner Vito Chiesa cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he could not support an annexation which created an island and suggesting that the matter be continued to a future meeting so all parties involved could work toward resolving that issue.

Others, though expressed support despite the island issue.

“What we are here to consider is quite logical,” commented commission member Richard O’Brien. “It is unfortunate that the island exists, but there is a logical explanation as to why it is there.”

Terry Withrow, vice chair of the commission, said he “is okay with this island, just because of all the factors involved.” The situation meets the criteria for when exceptions apply, he noted.

“I respect their opinion to not want to be in the city,” Withrow commented, “but I think it can’t be to the detriment of everybody else.”

Lytle-Pinhey, the LAFCO executive officer, told Mattos Newspapers that a 30-day reconsideration period is required, after which time protest notices will be mailed out. She said she anticipates those notices going out in early June, with a protest hearing scheduled at the end of that month.

Once the annexation is finalized, Holland said, the city can move forward with plans to extend infrastructure to the project area - which will include making improvements to Jensen Road.