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Rumor of 2,000 homes has Morada talking

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Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2003 10:00 pm

A housing developer is exploring the idea of building up to 2,000 homes on what is now farmland at the southern tip of Morada.

Empire Land, a coalition of several real estate businesses throughout California and the southwestern United States, is looking at building on about 500 acres off the eastern frontage road off Highway 99 south of Hammer Lane.

The development, if constructed, will begin just north of Shadow Lake Mobile Home Park and extend north to Hammer Lane and possibly to Foppiano Lane. A development application has not been filed, however.

"We're just investigating (the) development proposal," said Empire Land representative Ken Baki. "Maybe it's something we won't pursue."

The possible development has raised the eyebrows of Bill Fields, chairman of the Morada Municipal Advisory Council, which advises county officials about community issues.

He was even more mystified when, after several phone calls, he learned that county Supervisor Jack Sieglock nor planners from the county, city of Stockton or the Local Agency Formation Commission were aware of any subdivision proposed for Morada.

"It would be nice to have a little input into that," Fields said. "If it's nice, we would agree with 2,000 homes."

Keith Fichtner, vice president and regional manager with Empire Land, said he plans to

meet with neighbors of the development site within the next week to introduce the idea to them.

"Wouldn't it be nice to work out something with the developer?" said Fields, thinking aloud. "Maybe a plaza. Give it a village atmosphere, something real upscale nice."

The proposal will likely be a prime discussion at the April 1 meeting of the Morada Area Association, an organization of area residents, and the April 8 Morada MAC meeting.

Fields said hearing of the possible subdivision will accelerate efforts for Morada to form a community services district that would control water, sewer and other infrastructure in the community.

A group called the Morada Future Committee is investigating the procedures necessary to form a community services district. The committee consists of Fields, MAC members Ken Meleyco and Pat Gotelli and Morada Area Association chairman John Sinclair. Fields also sits on the Morada Area Association board.

If Morada forms a community services district, Empire Land would have to submit their application to them in order to gain water and sewer service.

The Empire Land development would be constructed around Stockton Baptist Church, which plans a major expansion of its own, said Pastor Steve Kihlthau.

The church, located on the frontage road a half-mile south of Hammer Lane, has filed an application for a use permit with San Joaquin County. The application will be processed as soon as a traffic study on the church expansion proposal is completed, said Kihlthau and Chandler Martin, a senior planner for the county.

Empire Land, however, has not submitted a development application to the county. Representatives from Empire Land have held initial discussions with the Stockton Planning Department. If the developer wants its land to be within the Stockton city limits, an application for Stockton to annex the land must be filed with the county's Local Agency Formation Commission.

"I'm not sure if their project is going to be filed or not," said Dave Stagnaro, a Stockton senior planner. "I think they're just doing their due diligence."

However, Empire Land has submitted a conceptual plan to the city of Stockton for an initial review.

"We're in the process of getting some city departments together to provide some feedback," Stagnaro said.

Fields said he learned of the subdivision proposal through another MAC member, who in turned heard about it from a friend who attends Stockton Baptist Church.

"This is extremely important to us in that they have asked us to consider being at the main entrance of this new development of up to 2,000 homes while still maintaining our great visibility from the freeway. Praise the Lord!" Kihlthau wrote in a February letter to the Stockton Baptist congregation.

"Please pray for God's wisdom, as we will probably never get another chance like this to secure additional properties for long-term growth," Kihlthau said in his letter.

Residents of the Shadow Lake Mobile Home Park are divided over whether a 2,000-home subdivision next door to them would be a good idea.

"It's so nice seeing out our back window onto the farmers' field," said assistant manager Annie Densmore, who lives adjacent to the farmland at the north end of the mobile home park

"I'm from Southern California, and I came from very crowded communities," Densmore said. "When I moved here in 2000, it was a real culture shock. It's like a country setting."

Betsy Steele, a Shadow Lake resident since 1978, doesn't like the idea either.

"I don't like to be surrounded," Steele said. "I like it open there."

Babe Ennis, a 13-year resident, sees it quite differently.

"I think it would enhance everything," Ennis said. "It wouldn't bother me one way or the other. You can't imagine the dirt and dust."

Park manager John Bresky said, "It would provide stronger law enforcement coverage. I like that."

Louie Fernandes, a Shadow Lake resident since 1974, said a subdivision next door would provide potential.

"If they don't open it to low income, good idea," Fernandes said. "It would open jobs up. They won't be plowing fields once or twice a year. I can't open my windows."

Kihlthau said the church and developer are in a position to help each other.

"The developer wants a nice church as part of a development," he said. "And I'd rather have the potential to draw people than ground squirrels."

If the subdivision is built, Kihlthau said members of his congregation would aggressively knock on doors in the new neighborhood to gain membership.

With or without the Empire Land subdivision, Stockton Baptist Church has some ambitious plans to expand its grounds. A year ago, the church had a little more than 2 acres. Today, through two transactions, the church purchased 4 acres of farmland from the Weber Family Trust.

Weber Family Trust owns the land on which the potential subdivision sits. It is zoned for agricultural, and crops are grown on its fields there, said Stagnaro, the Stockton planner.

The church draws about 150 people to its two services each Sunday. Plans call for the sanctuary to expand from a seating capacity of about 130 to 300 seats in its first expansion phase, Kihlthau said. Ultimately, the sanctuary will have 500 to 600 seats.

The site also has a school for preschoolers through high-school students. Stockton Baptist School has about 80 students, about 20 short of capacity. Kihlthau said he would like to have enough classroom space for 200 to 250 students. A parking lot is being constructed this year, and a multipurpose gymnasium is planned for the second phase.

Kihlthau said his church has growth potential, even without the Empire Land development, because it is right off Highway 99 and the great visibility that goes with it.

"I can't pay for advertising like this," he said.

Church members come from Lodi, Lockeford, Western Ranch and Lathrop as well as Stockton, Kihlthau said.


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