By Rebecca Adler

Landowners living in a proposed greenbelt area have been attending meetings for months to show their opposition to the city’s plan to move forward with a sphere of influence extension that would include their land.

Wednesday night was a similar situation, only this time they brought an attorney. After landowners resoundingly asked the city to give them more time to develop a plan they could agree with, real estate attorney Steve Herum gave the council some legal reasons to postpone the proposal.

Among other arguments, Herum said the sphere change would not hold up in court because it doesn’t follow the normal procedure for adding property to a city’s influence, which is generally done in order to make way for future development. In this case the land is being held to prevent development.

Without more time to research Herum’s comments and the cases used to support his argument, City Attorney Stephen Schwabauer said he couldn’t advise the council whether to continue. After about 10 more landowners stood to speak and some discussion among council members, the council voted 5-0 to table the decision, giving landowners six months to come up with a detailed greenbelt plan.

The council agreed a better plan needed to be in place before going to the Local Agency Formation Commission with a proposal, and decided to give landowners six months to come up with a more detailed version of a plan proposed in August.

Councilman Bob Johnson also recommended re-assessing the Greenbelt Task Force, which has had a dwindling participation among its members. Only seven of its 19 members have attended the past three meetings.

“In order to make this thing work we need to know who’s really committed,” Johnson said. The landowner’s plan, presented by Bruce Fry, a property owner in the area and a Greenbelt Task Force member, is to designate the land as AL-5, a limited agriculture designation that would allow the property to be split into five-acre lots.

This would give landowners leverage when looking for loans to expand their farming operations or help pay for crops after a bad harvest. Landowners said they don’t plan to develop the land, but feel it is unfair to hold their property in limbo because it could hamper their ability to farm and make money.

Some Lodi residents disagreed, however. David Nielson said he didn’t think the landowners could be trusted not to sell out if offered enough money.