STOCKTON (CBS13) — Stockton city leaders are debating whether to keep an area north of town for agriculture purposes or make it into a prime spot for development.

This debate was all part of an economic and education enterprise, an amendment to Stockton’s General Plan 2040. The city council passed the amendment in a 6-1 vote Tuesday evening, allowing 3,800 acres to be turned into the future home of a major employer – such as a hospital or a university.

The area north of Eight Mile Road is currently zoned as ‘village,’ which means housing or other development could be placed there. Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs said a new plan will make things more restrictive.

“With this action, we’ll be changing that zoning to village economic development or education meaning the only way it could be developed if somebody is going to bring education or jobs,” said Tubbs.

The amendment to Stockton’s General Plan 2040 is a land use designation document known as the economic and education enterprise. It would allow 3,800 acres to be turned into the future home of a major employer – such as a hospital or a university.

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“If we are to develop north of Eight Mile, it could only be for something that can have an economic benefit to the city that could create when someone says we need jobs.  It’s actually giving us options,” Tubbs said.

The Sierra Club of California is among the organizations that want city leaders to reject the idea and keep this as a green belt between Stockton and Lodi.

“It helps for communities to have a sense of separation which is so much necessary for a sense of place. We in Stockton are in a desperate need for having that sense of space and community pride,” said Mary Elizabeth who represents the Sierra Club of California.

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City Councilwoman Christina Fugazi said, for the time being, the land should be left alone.

“You tell me what business requires 3,800 acres for their business?” said Fugazi.

The city has five planning agreements to build thousands of new housing units. Fugazi said building a university or a hospital could take up to a decade and shouldn’t need that much space.

“Sac State is 300 acres, CSU Turlock is 228 acres so, I don’t see us using that much,” Fugazi said. “As we go through the process we can always make amendments and change land use designation,” she said.