to renew an agricultural lease at the former Crows Landing Naval Airfield for two years, it was a sign that the former airbase’s landscape may not change much in the near future.
Still, Stanislaus County Assistant Executive Officer Keith Boggs said this week that county staff members are not sitting idle, with plans to present a strategy to the board of supervisors next month for developing the airfield into a distribution hub and airport.
Proposed plans include having Stanislaus County conduct its own environmental review process that would seek input both from developers and West Side residents before allowing applicants to submit development proposals, Boggs said.
“We’re hoping that 18 to 20 months from now, we’ll be past the entitlement process, we’ll have an environmental impact report in place, we’ll have buy-in from the communities from the West Side, and we’ll be at a place where the project is averse of risk and more attractive to the development community,” Boggs said Monday, May 6.
Supervisors seek new approach
The renewed push to develop the 1,528-acre airbase comes after the county received no applications to develop the airbase by a Feb. 1 deadline set this year.
County supervisors voted in August to end a five-year agreement with developer Gerry Kamilos, whose West Park team had failed to meet financial deadlines.
Even before the county chose Kamilos’ proposal, Patterson and Newman city council members and several area residents took issue with the size of Kamilos’ proposal, which initially involved 4,800 acres. Some also objected to his aim of sending trains to the airfield from the Port of Oakland.
The city of Patterson went on to sue the county in 2008, alleging that the county had violated state law by moving forward with West Park’s proposal without completing an environmental quality report required by the California Environmental Quality Act.
While that suit was overturned, county staff is proposing this time around that the CEQA process be handled in-house at a cost of up to $685,000, with the aid of several studies that were already completed for the West Park project, Boggs said.
County staff is also proposing that an ad-hoc committee meet quarterly with county staff, he said. That committee would consist of county supervisors Jim DeMartini, a staunch opponent of Kamilos’ West Park plan, and Dick Monteith, a West Park advocate.
While the county appeared open to a wide range of development possibilities when the county issued its first Request for Proposals in 2006, officials now have somewhat of a firmer vision of what they want to see developed.
Boggs said the nearby Interstate 5 corridor makes the project perfect for logistics uses. An updated county website about the Crows Landing Air Facility labels the project as the Crows Landing Logistics Center, though Boggs said folks should not make too much of the new phrasing, noting that he was merely tweaking the website and not seeking to rename the project.
Airfield farming continues
Though county leaders will deliberate about the future of the airbase later this month, the look of the farmland surrounding the runway will remain the same for at least the next two years.
County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday as part of its consent calendar of routine items to extend the county’s lease with Wheeler and Sons to farm 1,112 of the airfield’s 1,528 acres through Nov. 9, 2015.
Wheeler and Sons has farmed hay there since November 2010, after former renter Pride of San Juan — which had grown lettuce and other leafy greens there since 2006 — closed due to financial hardship.
Under the agreement approved this week, Wheeler will pay a total of $446,598 to continue the lease.
The continuation of farming near the airfield is just fine with DeMartini, who said he could not foresee having a development proposal in place anytime soon in light of the economy.
“We’re years away from having anything done,” he said.
He was glad to hear that county staff hoped to get support from the West Side looking forward, saying that’s the way it should be.
“Everything that could have been done wrong was done wrong last time, so I hope that we learned our lesson,” he said.
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