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Market could sprout



While a 2-acre lot at Yosemite Junction is zoned residential, the county general plan calls for "special commercial" use there, such as a mini-mart.

But when Lloyd Bunch of Modesto bought the south-west corner of Highways 108 and 120 a few months ago, he said, his first thought was, "what would it be like to have an old-fashioned barn-raising?"

After growing up on a Central Valley farm and teaching agriculture at Tokay High School in Lodi, Bunch purchased the land to live his dream of opening an upscale roadside farmers market.

"I'm a person of modest means," Bunch said. "I'm not representing a group of investors."

But he hit a snag last month, when he demolished a dilapidated motel on the site that was considered historic because it was more than 50 years old. Because he worked with friends to remove the old inn, Bunch said, he had no contractor to advise him of county codes that require a demolition permit for such buildings.

To correct his oversight, Tuolumne County Planner Robin Wood said Bunch must hire a consultant to prepare a historical record of the corner; erect a monument with a bronze plaque to document the site's history; compile a "shadow box" with old photos and artifacts; and review building plans with the county Heritage Committee to ensure any new building will be "compatible with what was there historically."

Wood estimates this work will cost Bunch about $2,500.

"Because he wants to correct this and get it resolved, I think the (committee) worked with him to come up with something reasonable to compensate the community," Wood said.

Fortunately, Bunch said, many of those requirements are things he would do anyway.

"I would like to promote the history of agriculture and agriculture in this county," he said, pulling out copies of 1869 newspaper articles detailing old vineyards that once grew near Table Mountain. Bunch said he doesn't want a makeshift roadside stand, but a big, barn in old-California style.

Local produce, jams and honey would be among the many items featured on the sale floor, and he said he has already been contacted by an organic herb grower who wants a display spot.

"I will not sell a tomato from Mexico. I will not sell an apple from New Zealand," Bunch said.

In the barn's loft, Bunch added, he might open an art gallery featuring local artists and work that showcases the foothills.

Troy Claveran, a golf developer with an option to buy the land adjacent to Bunch's, said he is thrilled with the announcement.

His group — Yosemite Ranch LLC — was looking to buy the space, Claveran said, but Bunch got it first.

"I've seen a number of great country markets out and about in the Mother Lode. If it's done well, it can be really nice," Claveran said of Bunch's plans.

Now, Bunch said, he is searching for someone to design an authentic, old-fashioned barn.

He's also working on changing the zoning designation and setting himself right with the county. He hopes to open in about a year.

"I'll probably use my teachers' retirement to make this all come together," Bunch said. He already refinanced his house and maxed out his credit cards to obtain the land.

But those are just the steps required to meet his goal — returning to the fruit stands and agriculture of his youth.

"That's the lifestyle I grew up with, and for the last 20 years I've been trying to get back to it," he said.

Contact Genevieve Bookwalter at gbookwalter@ uniondemocrat.com.

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