The city’s effort to acquire land for a storm drain basin for the Ellis subdivision has reached an impasse, but on Tuesday, the Tracy City Council agreed to give negotiations another two months before using its eminent domain authority to acquire the land.

At issue is about 16 acres, plus 1.7 acres more for a new fire station, to be carved out of a 60-acre parcel along Valpico Road about 500 yards west of Corral Hollow Road. City Engineer Robert Armijo told the council Tuesday that land use attorney Todd Amspoker has been unable to reach a purchase agreement with the property owner, Ronnoco Properties of Tracy II LP.

The city’s engineering department report puts the appraised value of the 16 acres at $691,667 and the 1.7 acres at $73,332. Eminent domain law allows a government entity to force a sale, with the city’s best offer as the purchase price, even if the property owner doesn’t want to sell.

Amspoker told the council that the city and Ronnoco could still negotiate even if the council were to approve a resolution of necessity, which is a legal step the city must take, declaring that it needs the land for the public good, before it can use eminent domain.

Greg O’Connor, one of the principals of Ronnoco, told the council that the city didn’t have the authority to use eminent domain in this case, and his company had made an effort to negotiate a sale.

He pointed out that his company’s property, an unincorporated parcel of farmland about a half-mile north of the Ellis development, had been chosen over land within the Ellis subdivision, which the storm drain basin is designed to serve.

“We don’t believe they’ve made that case that this is the best place for the detention pond. The development that’s taking place is right across the street from Valpico Road,” he added. “I can’t believe that it wouldn’t be as adequate of a parcel of land as our parcel.

“When we asked at one of those meetings with city staff … why they didn’t place the detention pond on the other side of Valpico Road, where the development is taking place, and one of your engineers stated that they didn’t want to lose any lots.”

Amspoker replied that in talks with Ronnoco so far, the issue wasn’t the price so much as the future of the 60-acre parcel, which is outside city limits. It was once part of a planning area known as South Schulte, identified back in the 1990s as a possible future phase of development. That concept has since been removed from the city’s general plan, leaving a large area of unincorporated land that is almost completely surrounded by land that is within city limits.

“There were direct discussions with the property owner. The problem was that a deal could not be struck because the property owner wanted the city to agree to annex the property in the future, and that’s just simply not something the city can agree to do. An annexation requires all kinds of studies and so forth before that can be accomplished,” Amspoker told the council.

“To my knowledge, the property owner has never made a counteroffer in terms of money. The approach always has been, ‘You need to annex us or go to another property.’”

The council would need to have at least four of five members approve of the resolution of necessity to begin the eminent domain process.

“I’m really not convinced that we’ve had enough negotiation,” said Councilwoman Rhodesia Ransom. “I do understand that we can’t approve someone’s request to annex. I totally get that, but I would like to see that there’s been a better negotiation than what we’ve heard tonight.”

Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Young and Councilwoman Veronica Vargas agreed. The council didn’t take a vote but directed the city staff to meet again with Ronnoco and report back in 60 days if they didn’t reach a deal.

Contact Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com or 830-4227.

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