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Mega project impacting Ripon
Council hearing update tonight on Austin BP
Palm Avenue - lined with palms from Highway 99 to Austin Road - is almost smack dab in the center of the Austin Road Business Park. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Everything from Ripon schools and roads to fire service will feel the impacts of the Austin Road Business Park - the largest development ever approved in Manteca.

The 1,049-acre project straddles the boundary between Manteca Unified and Ripon Unified west of Highway 99. It ultimately will include enough housing for 10,200 residents with 58 percent of them living within the City of Manteca but will have their children - estimated at 1,150 - attending Ripon Unified schools.

The project’s roads eventually will tie into future Ripon city streets. Ripon and Manteca also have to come up with an agreement on where to locate the only interchange Caltrans will allow between the existing Austin Road and Jack Tone Road interchanges so it can serve future growth in both communities.

A deal has already been reached with the Ripon Consolidated Fire District that will reimburse them  for lost property taxes as the area annexed into the city is converted to the City of Manteca Fire Department’s coverage area.

The Ripon City Council will be updated on the business park project during tonight’s 7 p.m. meeting  at City Hall, 259 North Wilma.

The impact of the project generally south of Highway 99 saddling Austin Road is so big it will:

• Possibly require a re-alignment of Highway 99.

• Generate 10,200 residents or about a seventh of the existing population of Manteca.

• Convert 1,049 acres from farming and rural residential use to urban development.

• Impact Ripon Unified schools even bigger than Manteca Unified schools as most of the residential would be within Manteca city limits but within the Ripon Unified district. The number of students going to Ripon could easily exceed the current enrollment of Ripon High.

•The potential to create up to 13,000 jobs – or close to 50 percent of the existing jobs in Manteca.

• The residential alone represents the potential of creating $1.02 billion in today’s dollars.

In the past, Ripon’s elected leaders have made it clear that want to make sure:

• The new Austin Road interchange – actually the future extension of McKinley Avenue – would connect with a road system that integrates with Ripon’s future plans to the south where they are hoping to build the Olive Avenue Expressway north of Jack Tone Road. In the event that doesn’t happen or takes longer than expected, Ripon wants to make sure roads connect to provide smooth regional traffic movements.

•  Austin Road Business Park pays its fair share of future improvements that will be need at the Jack Tone/Highway 99 interchange. When housing develops, it may be quicker for many future residents to use the Jack Tone exit to reach their homes until such time as the new interchange is in place.

The two cities have also agreed in concept to place a greenbelt with landscaping and bike trails to mark a distinct boundary in the future when the two cites abut up against each other.

The first phase of the project to move forward is the business park that is on the northern end of the development. Manteca is already moving forward with preparing construction plans for modification to the existing Austin Road interchange to accommodate increased truck traffic. The developers – which include some of the same parties responsible for Spreckels Business Park – are currently in the process of trying to secure the first distribution center.

Why job centers are going first & not housing

The reason why the job centers and not housing are in line to develop first has everything to do with the current market, land that is within the Williamson Act designed to protect agriculture, as well as the cost of infrastructure.

The initial phase involves 218 acres heavy industrial – essentially large scale distribution centers. It also involves 24 acres of business/industrial/professional zoning or what you’d typically find in business parks such as the one now on Moffat Boulevard next to Crossroads Grace Community Church. It also includes 46 acres of public/quasi public use including an eight-acre site the Manteca Visitors Center envisions for a 5,000-seat amphitheatre and other convention-style uses. It also encompasses parkland that will double as major storm retention basic for the entire non-residential portion of the Austin Road project.

The 268 acres is located in the southeast portion of the project. It is bordered on the west by the existing Austin Road and on the north by the future alignment of McKinley Avenue that ultimately would connect with Highway 99 in a new interchange south of the existing Austin Road interchange.

The second phase would consist of 82 aces including the remaining 41 acres of business/industrial/professional plus 41 acres of commercial mixed use designed to integrate high density residential often in the same building but on upper floors of retail buildings as well as condos and apartments that are more urbanized. The land is all east of Austin Road.

The third phase consists of 315 acres of low density residential as well as park and open space to the west of Austin Road, to the south of Woodward Avenue and to the east of the future extension of Atherton Drive due south from where it intersects Woodward Avenue today.

The fourth phase is comprised of 108.2 acres of  general commercial east of Austin Road and north of the McKinley Avenue extension alignment.

The fifth and final phase consists of all remaining residential. The land is now in the Williamson Act. The act projects agriculture through lower property tax assessment. It takes 10 years to take the land out of the Williamson Act after notification is given without suffering severe property tax penalties. Developers could opt to pay the penalties but it would add significantly to the cost of the project.

The phasing is also critical to allow continued use of the Austin Road interchange until such time a new interchange is built at McKinley Avenue and Highway 99 further to the south.

By not allowing housing to go first, it assures adequate capacity at the Austin Road interchange with just a few modifications.

The project also encompasses 84 acres of commercial mixed use that will blend high density residential with commercial uses designed to encourage a valley version of the much acclaimed Santana Row development in San Jose that combines commercial and retail to create a neighborhood where people can live and walk to stores, entertainment, and other diversions.

The project will require a new Austin Road interchange further south than the existing location.

The reason is two-fold. First, the existing interchange is too close to the Highway 120 Bypass/Highway 99 interchange to allow safe merger. Caltrans can’t add a second south Highway 99 merge land that would ease the afternoon commute with the interchange at its current location.

Austin Road needs to also clear the railroad tracks as well as Highway 99 much like the replacement Jack Tone Road interchange does in Ripon.