NEWMAN - City officials recently offered assurances to property owners in the first-phase annexation of the planned Northwest Newman project that their existing uses can largely stay unchanged until they choose to sell or develop their land.

City Manager Michael Holland led a 90-minute meeting last Thursday to update property owners on the project and field questions.

Northwest Newman is a 360-acre mixed use project that includes land designated for commercial use, a business park, professional offices and residential development, located to the north of the existing city limits and west of Highway 33.

The city is proposing to annex about 121 acres initially, most of which is earmarked for the job-generating commercial and business park uses. The city’s application to annex the property is expected to go to the land use agency LAFCO for consideration in October, Holland told those gathered at the informational meeting.

He also reviewed a number of proposed changes in the implementation policy which will guide the transition from unincorporated property to urban land uses over time. He said those changes, which will go to the City Council for consideration on Aug. 13, were driven largely by comments from landowners in past meetings and reflect less restrictive policies on the city’s part.

Holland also assured property owners that they will not be forced to sell or develop their property unless they so choose.

“We think the value (of property) will actually increase, but I can’t promise you that,” said Holland, who added that commercial properties in the city had commanded prices in the neighborhood of $700,000.

Not everybody was convinced, however, as one in attendance termed that estimated amount a “joke” compared to true value and predicted that residents were going to be ultimately squeezed out.

Other property owners voiced questions and concerns about the impact on their land and lifestyles.

Wells were one common concern.

While the city’s proposed implementation policy essentially gives landowners five years (increased from two) from the time services are available to connect to city systems, Holland said that in reality the city will allow remaining wells and septic systems to remain in use until such time that they fail or compromise the health and safety of municipal systems or surrounding properties. A handful of wells and septic systems remain in use within the city limits, he said by way of example.

Should a well fail altogether the city would require connection to the city water system rather than permitting a new well to be drilled, Holland acknowledged. That may be a fairly straightforward proposition if a water main is nearby, but Holland said there is a possibility that a landowner may have to extend a main line in order to connect to the water or sewer system. Because that main would be sized to serve additional development as well, the existing policy provides reimbursement to a landowner for seven years. At the request of landowners, Holland agreed to revisit the time frame with the City Council. That same provision applies to sewer mains.

Under that scenario, one property owner said, landowners would essentially be forced to install infrastructure which benefits the city because they would not have the option to replace wells or septic systems.

Property owners who want to connect to the city water system but maintain their own well for irrigation or landscaping can do so, he added, but must install a backflow device which is tested annually to protect against contamination of the city system from a private well.

In response to a question from another audience member, Holland said the large well being drilled toward the western end of Jensen Road will not impact local wells because of its 500-foot depth which extends below the clay layer.

As part of the water project, a main line will be installed down Jensen Road to Fig Lane, and eventually connect with an existing main east of Highway 33 and adjacent railroad tracks. The city is currently waiving connection fees for nearby property owners who want to hook up to the line.

When that line goes in, he noted, the plan is to expand Jensen Road to two full lanes from Highway 33 to Fig Lane.

Livestock was another issue of concern.

The implementation policy initially adopted by the City Council would have allowed property owners to keep non-domestic livestock but not replace existing stock after they had perished.

The new proposal would allow property owners to replace non-domestic animals in an appropriate number and manner. The language will essentially allow the city and property owner to enter into an agreement allowing the non-domestic animals to be maintained and replaced. It also creates an opportunity for those with chickens to keep roosters as well.

Ultimately, Holland said, he believes annexation provides opportunities for the city to prosper and will benefit affected property owners as well through access to city services.

“We believe we are creating policies which allow them to maintain their current lifestyle, and animals if they are being managed properly and in appropriate numbers,” Holland commented. “We’re not forcing anybody to sell their property. This will all be private, market-driven. We’re just trying to set the stage so that if we grow it is done in a managed way. That was what the community told us in the general plan process that they wanted, rather than piece-meal projects.”