A project with medical offices and commercial retail space cleared another hurdle Wednesday night when the Lodi City Council approved annexing 30 acres south of the city's limits.
The project is located at the southwest corner of Harney Lane and West Lane, which is currently occupied by strawberry fields.
Applicant Mike Carouba submitted plans that show five new office buildings that take up a total of 179,200 square feet, including a medical office with a laboratory. The plans also include 103,350 square feet of commercial space, including a bank and restaurant.
Carouba confirmed Sutter Gould as the first tenant. Phase one of the project will be constructing a $40 million, three-story medical office building that includes a medical lab, Carouba said.
The rest of the project will be completed as future development increases in the area around the intersection, he said.
The project still has to go to the county's Local Agency Formation Commission, which also has to approve it.
The council approved the project despite about 10 area farmers protesting before the meeting.
Angela Nicolini held a "Buy Local, Go Green" sign as she stood outside Carnegie Forum. For weeks her family, who owns Kaehler Dairy on Armstrong Road, have passed out petitions and encouraged people to go to the website they started: www.saveourstrawberries.com.
"The city is coming into farmland that is irreplaceable for development that could go elsewhere," Nicolini said.
During the meeting, opponents argued that the city should fill vacant lots within the city limits before moving south of Harney Lane.
"I cannot believe that Lodi city officials lack other means, or lack any more intelligent ideas, on how to encourage the economic welfare of Lodi, than simply paving over more farmland," Liz Nicolini said.
She said her family will continue to gather area property owners upset about the development and fight it.
Lodi resident Pat Underhill said she hopes the idea of a greenbelt between Stockton and Lodi is not a lost cause, even if this development goes forward.
"Obviously, I have some emotion over this, but I have the solid conviction that this sort of thing happens gradually and then you don't have the Lodi we have loved for such a long time," she said.
Carl Fink, owner of Lakewood Drugs, purchased the property 30 years ago, and said he has been waiting for the city to expand to eventually develop it.
The 30 acres of farmland is not in the city's boundaries, but it is included in the General Plan's sphere of influence, which is where the city intends to grow over the next 20 years. It is labeled as commercial development.
Carouba said there is no space for a development like this in the current city limits.
Councilman Bob Johnson said that while there was a vocal group at the council meeting, the property was already selected for commercial use during the General Plan process. He said the city has always known Lodi would grow to the south as it got bigger.
"Everybody I can think of knew that sooner or later the city of Lodi would move south of Harney Lane. This is happening now," he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, customers drove off the road into the dirt lot at the stand to pick up strawberry baskets.
For the past 14 years, Tong Tcha has leased the land and run a stand on the corner. He said he has spoken with the landowner who assured him the project is a long-term plan and will not immediately affect his ability to continue growing strawberries and other vegetables.
"I'd like to keep the farm here," he said.
Lodi resident Stella Chavez was also at the stand picking up strawberries. She has been coming to the stand for four years with her granddaughters, and is upset that the farm could eventually disappear.
"I say we keep our agriculture. We don't get enough fresh produce as it is. We already have enough office buildings. There are some many that they can't even use right now," Chavez said.