Yesterday The Record’s Scott Smith reported on a proposed new development dubbed Bear Creek East on the northern edge of the city that will include around 1,500 to 2,000 new homes. The project is being put forward by a group known as MCD North Stockton—a joint venture between the investment group HG Capital and developer Mill Creek Development. Tonight, the Stockton Planning Commission will consider the project’s environmental reports, with city council consideration to follow in the future. Even though construction would not start until 2015 at the earliest, a handful of groups have already come out in opposition, asking the city to consider all of the costs associated with developing over farmland. While the plans include language about open space, live-work units and bike paths, the overall project is not much different from the other types of green-field development in Stockton over the years. Coupled with the backlog of already approved and pending units and the strain that new city land would have on Stockton’s already paper-thin resources, Bear Creek East is wrong for Stockton. Here’s why.
First and foremost, there are already tens of thousands of “paper lots”—housing that has already been approved—planned for the northwest corner of the city. Grupe and Spanos each have plans for more housing once the market heats up. As far as I know, these projects are still approved. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to approve even more housing when there are still so many units on the drawing board.
This project would also require the annexation of farmland which is not presently a part of Stockton. While revenue from construction fees and new property taxes may seem like a good reason to move ahead, there are several hidden costs with this type of growth that will cost the city money in the long run. With 160 acres of new city land, more fire and police coverage would be required. Further, because Bear Creek East will be built on farmland, infrastructure must be built and maintained, which is also not cheap. As a result, these added costs (not to mention added pollution from increased driving and storm water runoff) will not be covered by additional revenues generated from this project.
Laughably, Bear Creek East’s developers are touting their project as “smart growth” when there is absolutely nothing about it that qualifies as smart. This project appears to be the same variety of bland, soulless suburban housing that drove Stockton into a foreclosure crisis just five years ago. Some bike paths and townhomes don’t make a development smart; it’s just a guise to build more homes as cheaply as possible, reducing neighborhoods to commodities.
Moreover, Bear Creek East is a classic example of something called “leap frog development.” The 160 acres is completely outside of the city limits, and currently touches no parts of Stockton, “leap frogging” over empty land, creating the need for extended city services. While the surrounding area has also been identified for future development, it would make no sense to begin building a project that is not directly city-adjacent
It may be justifiable in the future to build on this land, but as it stands, there are already enough existing or planned single family homes in Stockton to accommodate demand for the foreseeable future. Unless the forces behind MCD North Stockton want to offset their development with a substantial contribution to infill and existing neighborhood revitalization efforts, the costs of this type of development far outweigh the benefits to the city of Stockton.
I am hopeful that new city leadership understands the implications of reverting back to senseless sprawl. If you think this kind of development should be reconsidered, bring your comments to the Stockton Planning Commission tonight (Thursday) at City Hall.
****UPDATE: The Stockton Planning Commission voted against Bear Creek East in a 4 to 3 vote. While the vote is only advisory and is not binding, it sends the right message that Stockton will no longer blindly accept mediocre sprawl. The City Council will also consider the proposal next year. The Record’s Scott Smith has the story here