September 17, 2021

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Hundreds could work at industrial site in north Modesto

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A new development proposes a 300,000 square-foot industrial building that could employ hundreds of people on Kiernan Avenue north of Modesto.

The building, designed for light industry, is planned for the southeast corner of Tully Road and Kiernan. It will replace an almond orchard on the 17-acre site.

Jackrabbit Equipment Inc., which makes equipment for the tree nut industry, has been discussed as a main tenant for the Kiernan facility. The company would use the building for consolidating Jackrabbit’s operations in Ripon and on Dakota Avenue in Modesto.

Chief Executive Officer Bob DeMont said Thursday that 90 employees would work at the new building initially, but the number could grow substantially as the company expands.

The Stanislaus County planning commission considered the project last week and recommended that county supervisors approve it. The project is set for the Board of Supervisors meeting Aug. 17.

According to a county staff report, Jackrabbit is expected to use half the facility, or 150,000 square feet. Libitzky Holdings of Emeryville, the applicant and developer, has not identified tenants for the other 150,000 square feet.

“We would love to be able to accommodate Jackrabbit,” said Kevin Perkins, an associate principal for Libitzky, a real estate investment firm that owns properties in eight states.

“We are building 300,000 square feet of Class A space that should be highly in demand,” Perkins said. “Modesto is in a real growth market and the location lends itself to being a prime industrial and distribution location for the state and western United States.”

Libitzky operates the Modesto Industrial Park, which is next door to the Kiernan and Tully property. The new cross-dock building could be built and completed by the second quarter of 2022, Perkins said.

According to the plans, businesses leasing space could operate around the clock, 7 days a week, three shifts per day, with up to 250 workers on each shift. That estimate includes other prospective operations in addition to Jackrabbit.

County staff said Jackrabbit could occupy a larger portion or the entire building, but that has not been determined yet.

The site is designed with 486 parking spaces; an excess amount of parking was included in the plans for flexibility as business tenants are sought.

Companies using the industrial building are expected to serve about 25 customers daily. The center will generate an estimated 1,488 truck and car trips per day.

Libitzky applied to the county for approval because the site is in an unincorporated area outside the city limits.

Modesto’s general plan designates the project location for business park development. For significant development projects inside a city’s sphere of influence, the county has a policy of first getting preliminary approval from the respective city. The county may approve the project after the city signs off.

Steve Mitchell, planning manager for Modesto, said the city has been in discussions with the county and supported the application because it’s an expansion of an industrial area. There are too many private properties between the city boundary and the Kiernan site for an annexation, he said.

One of the city’s conditions for approval was extension of a line to the property and connection to city water service, but a sewer service connection is not available, Mitchell said.

“We are working with the county on a tax-sharing agreement,” he added.

A project to bring jobs to Stanislaus County

Dave Romano, representing the project, told county planners the development team talked with Modesto officials about the benefits of the Kiernan development.

Romano said the city has planned for this type of development on Kiernan Avenue. He said the city and county need to have a building on the market for employers that can bring jobs to the community.

“We need to be in the game,” Romano said. “We found the perfect location to put this building.”

DeMont said Jackrabbit has looked for a facility to consolidate operations during his eight years with the company.

He said there are not many mid-sized industrial facilities available in the 100,000 to 300,000 square-foot range. The Kiernan location also has access to Highway 99, which connects with other freeways leading to ports for shipping agricultural equipment to customers overseas.

“About 10 percent of our business is in Australia and we have a growing business in Portugal and Chile,” DeMont said. The company would like to use the whole facility on Kiernan but it depends on fulfilling business plans, the CEO said.

After the county referred the project to Modesto, the city asked for a study to ensure truck traffic, coming off Kiernan, does not interfere with northbound motorists on Tully as they get into a turn lane for going west on Kiernan.

Modesto also wanted the project developed to city standards for landscaping, parking, fences and so forth, according to county staff.

Should city services be extended to the site?

Planning Commissioner Ken Buehner said he was concerned about possibly hundreds of employees flushing into a septic system and wanted a requirement for the building to connect with city wastewater service.

Extending a city sewer line a half mile to the site would require Local Agency Formation Commission approval and a city advisory vote.

Buehner was outvoted in a 6-1 planning commission decision that recommended approval of the development.

Some have characterized the project as leapfrog development. Helder Garcia, who owns a home northwest of the site, has told the county the projected traffic will create congestion.

“There is a lot of land around Modesto and there are other places this could go,” Garcia said. In addition, noise and glare from the lights will make it increasingly difficult to live near the industrial activity and 6-lane Kiernan Avenue, Garcia said at last week’s hearing.

A traffic analysis concluded the impacts from vehicles will be less than significant, county staff said. The development plans call for outdoor lighting that reduces glare.

County Supervisor Mani Grewal said he expects the project will provide 200 good-paying jobs or more for the community. The actual number of employees will depend on the needs of Jackrabbit or other business tenants that use the facility.

“If it comes to a vote of the Board of Supervisors, I would be supportive of it. I am always supportive of economic development when it’s infill and when it provides good-paying jobs,” Grewal said.

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Ken Carlson covers county government and health care for The Modesto Bee. His coverage of public health, medicine, consumer health issues and the business of health care has appeared in The Bee for 15 years.