It was a different world in 2012 when the Yosemite Square master plan was approved.
That is why the City Council at the time embraced crossing the proverbial Rubicon to allow develop of an area that was not contiguous to existing development.
As such it would be the opening development volley in a new frontier for Manteca that could set the stage for an eastward ho push.
It was the vision of two prominent names in Manteca home building — Mike Atherton and Bill Filios.
But these two men did more than just build homes.
They were the architects of four endeavors that altered the economic growth course of Manteca.
The first was converting a shuttered sugar beet processing plant that no other developer was willing to touch due to excessive perceived risks. They turned 362 acres into a business park, thriving commercial center and some housing that is today collectively known as Spreckels Park.
They took what could have been a black-eye for generations literally on Manteca’s front doorstep at the most high-profile interchange in the Northern San Joaquin Valley where the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 meet and turned it into an economic juggernaut for the city.
The development leveraged the redevelopment agency’s ability to secure Stadium Retail Center and build the Big League Dreams sports complex among other endeavors.
They also were behind piecing together land that made the Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley/Bass Pro Shops deal a reality.
They put together the Union Ranch Specific Plan that included the 1.425-home age restricted Del Webb community of Woodbridge.
They also steered city leaders into going after an indoor water park resort instead of just outdoor waterslides and helped advance the original family entertainment zone vision.
So, when they proposed a 137-acre development on the northeast quadrant of the Highway 99/120 Bypass interchange consisting of five multiple tory office buildings with 314,000 square feet 414 condos plus 312 apartments, 158,200-square-feet of retail 335 single family homes, and 28 estate-style lots fronting Austin Road city leaders were intrigued.
They saw it as a potential game changer and a project that could set the standard for future development in the area instead of just being another 137 acres of tract homes.
City leaders even toyed with the idea of developing or leasing one of the proposed buildings as a new city hall with a new library on the ground floor.
The idea was dismissed after exploratory discussions mainly because it was too far off the beaten track.
And that happens to be one of the big problems with the new version of Yosemite Square as it is advancing before the City Council on March 26 for a general plan amendment — it is too far off the beaten track.
And that is made worse by the pending closure of the nearby Austin Road ramps to Highway 99 for at least 10 years, if not permanently.
Since 2012 — and especially after the pandemic — the potential market for office space has shifted dramatically.
So has the retail market.
That said, chopping off the area that was planned for commercial near the Austin Road and Yosemite Avenue intersection made sense.
But the same doesn’t hold for the space along the freeway designated for office buildings in the original approval.
That’s because the housing market needs have shifted.
There is a reason why you are seeing a substantial increase in apartment/condo construction in the region.
Manteca is teeming up with Orchard Valley to come up with a plan to tear down part of the shopping complex and build high density residential between Bass Pro and JC Penney along with other retail uses.
At the very least, one would hope the first major development opening in a new area of Manteca farmland to be paved over would be a departure from the 1970s model of tract homes and nothing but more tract homes.
Perhaps an office/high density combo isn’t possible along the freeway. But in terms of quality of life of future residents, you could argue a buffer of apartments between the freeway and future free-standing homes would be.
That said, there are real serious drawbacks to how the developer of the new Yosemite Square project wants to squeeze those 814 homes on the land that he wants to develop.
Instead of backing homes up to an 8-foot soundwall along Highway 99, the plan calls for homes to face a street bordered by the 8-foot soundwall.
That hasn’t really been all of that friendly and enticing neighborhood design elsewhere in Manteca.
At this point, going forward with 814 homes makes the original Yosemite Square masterplan look like a Trojan Horse.
Yes, times have changed.
However, would the city have allowed a project to take root if they had known it was going to be nothing but 814 tract homes.
Without a master planned multiple-use development the stage is being set for piecemeal development up and down the Austin Road corridor by smaller tract home developments although seem may be on the scale of the new Yosemite Square vision.
There isn’t a well-thought out plan with funding mechanisms tied to development as it occurs to take the segment of Austin Road between Yosemite Avenue to Highway 99 to four lanes. It is almost a mirror of the issues Manteca created over the years along the Airport Way corridor with piecemeal planning right down to a significant PG&E power lines that someone will have to pay to be relocated.
What problems this council will likely put in motion with the proposal for 137 acres being covered with 814 tract homes in regards to Austin Road will be ones that the community will have to deal with for decades before they are corrected.
There may not be much they can do.
That said, they certainly can do this: They can identify the property between Yosemite Avenue and Austin Road as being a specific planning area.
As part of that procedure, they can hold all future development in abeyance — or at least condition them to pay whatever fees are ultimately imposed — until a basic plan is developed to widen Austin Road to four lanes and cover the power pole relocation costs.
Right now, no such plan exists and the project going forward doesn’t include the original Yosemite Square promise of addressing off-site road improvements.
The council needs to at least find a way to make sure Yosemite Square and future piecemeal development along Austin Road doesn’t completely mess up the corridor and create a traffic nightmare for years to come.
Not addressing the future of the Austin Road corridor was not the vision that drove the original Yosemite Square plan.
As such, the council by moving the current project forward without addressing such concerns will unwittingly turn a forward-thinking Yosemite Square vision embraced by the city in 2012 into a de facto Trojan Horse for nothing but tract housing.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at email@example.com