Development of a large shopping mall north of Diamond Springs edged a bit closer to becoming a reality this week. On the drawing boards for five years already, the Diamond-Dorado Retail Center project gained ground Tuesday when El Dorado County Supervisors unanimously approved a nine-point recommendation from the county’s Planning Commission.
The action involved an official board resolution amending the county’s General Plan Land Use Element and creation of a new zoning ordinance reflecting that amendment. Four parcels that make up just over 27 acres were rezoned from Industrial use (I) to General Commercial-Planned Development use (GC-PD).
Local developer Leonard Grado submitted an application for the project in November 2007 as Leonard Grado/GGV Missouri Flat, LLC. And since that time, the county has undertaken a comprehensive General Plan update that eventually would allow the rezone and certified an Environmental Impact Report conducted on the proposed project.
Diamond-Dorado, while significant in its own right, is also one piece of a larger development future which includes construction of the Diamond Springs Parkway, a proposed four-lane connector road from Highway 49 just south of Placerville to Missouri Flat Road. The parkway is proposed as a means to improve traffic flow from Pleasant Valley Road and the south county to Highway 50. It would allow motorists to skirt the narrow downtown Main Street in Diamond Springs alleviating traffic bottlenecks and hastening access to the freeway.
County planners and department of transportation staff have described six intersections generally within the area of proposed development as currently operating at a “level of service F.” That is just short of an “F” grade in school. How those intersections will be affected by the center and who pays for improvements and upgrades is a complex issue that, for a number of reasons, has not yet been determined.
Project spokesman and land use attorney Craig Sandberg explained to the board that the firm’s data showed that “this project has very little impact on these intersections, possibly an increase of about 10 trips per day.” And he noted that “there already is a lot going on at Missouri Flat.”
“We ask that you put the intersections into the county’s Capital Improvement Program instead (of requiring the developer to build them). If we have to do them, it would be a death knell for the project,” Sandberg said. He also noted that if the county takes responsibility for the intersections, the development company would contribute through the regular Traffic Impact Mitigation fee program.
The shopping center is designed to capture retail revenue from the entire area, much of which currently goes west to Folsom, according to project proponents. And the issue has been at the forefront of arguments both in favor of or in opposition to the proposal.
Proponents indicate the center will create hundreds of jobs for local residents, while opponents advise that, like many retail jobs, they are likely to be part-time and pay little more than minimum wage.
The Diamond-Dorado “room” is figuratively crowded with “800-pound gorillas.” Among them are Caltrans, right of way issues, sewer and water connections, funding on the part of the county, access to the Waste Connections Material Recovery Facility and the overall impact of the larger project.
Sandberg directed the board’s attention to an element of the recommendation titled “Alternate 5, Existing MRF Access Plan” which retains the present access road from Highway 49 to the MRF. Known unofficially as “Throwita Way,” the project would include some upgrade of that road rather than an earlier notion of constructing a new access and intersection from China Garden Road.
Preserving the county’s rural atmosphere and historical locales is a significant feature of the General Plan. But then so is economic development, both commercial and residential. And the “site is one of few at the commercial center for the county,” said District 3 Supervisor Jack Sweeney referring to an assumption that the south county will ultimately experience significant growth.
Neighbors and business owners within the project’s area told supervisors they are generally if not “totally” in support of the project. Several noted concerns about inadequate sewer facilities and disruption of their business during construction, however none spoke in overall opposition.
Art Marinaccio, a Shingle Springs consultant and General Plan guru spoke most favorably of the proposed benefits.
“Finally, finally something is before you that is moving this forward,” Marinaccio said. “It gets retail at the south end of Missouri Flat that will lead to revitalization of the area. Serious discussion about sewer, roads and other needs has to take place, but a significant amount of retail is needed in the area. And those other properties (in the Missouri Flat, Diamond Springs, El Dorado areas) need to be developed as well.”
Caltrans has reportedly posed a potential threat to the project with concerns about the traffic impact from the Parkway and DDRC on the Missouri Flat Interchange at Highway 50.
Sandberg noted earlier that the state agency might be “stepping into the Board of Supervisors’ shoes regarding land use.”
Sweeney said, “Caltrans shouldn’t be telling us how and where to spend our money. I’m not so convinced that Caltrans is correct about future traffic numbers, and I think we’ve proven to Caltrans that we do the right thing in this county.”
Norma Santiago, Supervisor from District 5, injected a dose of gloom into the otherwise sunny conversation. She suggested that Caltrans “would want over-engineering on Phase 2 of the project.”
But bigger than that concern:
“The developer told me in my office that work won’t start for seven years due to the parkway and Highway 49 not being done yet. Seven years in the government process can turn into 14 years,” she cautioned. “What can we do to move this forward regarding finding funding and getting the environmental reports? I want this yesterday,” Santiago said.
After recording the 5-0 vote in favor of all the recommendations, Board Chairman John Knight came back to the matter of the parkway.
“We have the certified environmental document. Prices are pretty good. Let’s see what we can do on the right of way,” he said.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or email@example.com. Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.