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Habitat fee may add $2,542 to home cost
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Future buyers of homes in developments such as Austin Road Business Park may have as much as $2,542 collapsed into the price of their home so San Joaquin County can implement and manage a multi-species habitat conservation program.

That’s based on a fee of $12,711 per acre of either agricultural or natural state land. The fee- which the Manteca City Council is expected to adopt Tuesday - is passed on to the county to administer. It is part of a 2001 agreement between cities and environmental groups to avoid costly litigation over habituate conservation.

The fees being put in place for 2013 reflect an 11.6 percent reduction based larger on the drop in property values.

The $2,542 per home cost assumes a standard density of five homes per acre that is typical for a Manteca single family neighborhood.

At 1,049 acres if the entire Austin Road Business Park were to be built out in 2013 developers would have to pay $13.3 million. In reality, the developers would pay the $12,711 per acre feet before specific parts of the overall project can turn dirt. The fee applies to all types of development whether it is housing, business park, retail or land being turned into a city park.

Vineyards, almond orchards and strawberry fields will disappear when the proposed 1,049-acre Austin Road Business Park is fully developed.

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

The 2013 fee is $1,390 an acre lower than the peak fee of $14,104 in 2009.

Council members in the past have suggested Manteca needs to make every effort to keep the ag preservation and open space money in the Manteca area to improve the quality of life while at the same time protecting farmland, open space and wetlands.

Among possible projects are:

• Planting almond orchards to the west of Highway 99 and the railroad tracks to create a 100-foot deep farming greenbelt between Manteca and Ripon to break up what is one day expected to be continuous urbanization.

• Securing 200 acres and creating wetlands and/or a natural regional park in southwest Manteca near the San Joaquin River. Treated wastewater from the Manteca plant could be used to provide water in summer to create a forest of high water use trees such as willows to generate oxygen while recharging the water table.

• Working in partnership with the Manteca Unified School District to secure a larger parcel for future expansion of school farming operations.

Organizations such as the Land Use Alliance have been proponents of buying farming easement in perpetuity on ag land far away from urban areas. The way it works is existing farmers get paid a lump sum in exchange for deed restricting future use of their property for ag uses only.

Council members would rather see the money collected in Manteca stay in Manteca.