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Redundant farm conversion studies adding to cost of housing projects

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POSTED January 12, 2010 3:10 a.m.

Manteca bureaucrats have ordered environmental impact studies for farmland conversion despite the fact it has already been addressed in a litigated settlement between the development community, environmental groups, and public agencies throughout San Joaquin County.

Developers have told city leaders who are looking for ways to strengthen the new housing market to put the building trades back to work that one thing they could do is to instruct staff to stop asking for consultants to study an impact that has already been addressed.

Builders contend that such a study is not only unneeded but it adds hundreds of dollars to the cost of a new home plus delays the processing of projects.

City staff goes through a check list when they hire consultants to do environmental review work that is paid for by developers and routinely check off agricultural land conversion.

The mitigation program already in place will require developers of the proposed 1,049-acre Austin Road Business Park to pay up to $14.6 million to help preserve farmland in perpetuity. It also means that future home buyers in a typical median subdivision of five units per acre will have roughly $2,900 of the purchase price of their home go to the ag fee account.

The City Council adopted the San Joaquin County Multi-Species Habitat Conservation and Open Space Plan fee as a requirement for developers.

The fee applies to any project with 350 acres or more.

The land conversion fee is $7,307 for an acre of open space, $14,615 for an acre of agricultural or natural land, $42,071 for an acre of grassland vernal pools, and $80,766 for an acre of wetted vernal pools.

The fees are designed to allow the purchase of open space and farmlands anywhere in San Joaquin County to protect them from development.

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