The El Dorado Hills Community Services District’s Board of Directors announced at its monthly meeting Thursday strong community support for a ballot measure that could protect the 98-acre former Executive Golf Course at Serrano, keeping it open space despite landowner Serrano LLC’s request to rezone the area to build more housing.
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The CSD’s survey mailed to 8,000 registered voters and homeowners earlier this spring stated, “The property owner of the former Executive Golf Course has asked the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors to rezone the property from the current open space and recreation zoning to residential. If the Board of Supervisors approves the rezoning, the developer has plans to build over 700 residential housing units including some high density housing … The Former Executive Golf Course is the last remaining 100 acres of potentially public open space in the urban core of El Dorado Hills … In order to acquire the former Executive Golf Course the EDHCSD is considering a local funding measure which would provide revenue to acquire it, preserve it as open space land or develop it into a community park in the future as funding becomes available.”
The survey occurred after informally asking the community one year ago: “What would you like to see done with the former executive golf course?”
In June 2013 more than 150 residents and 21 members of the public spoke in support of keeping the golf course as open space and/or developing the property into a park at a special EDHCSD meeting.
Days later in a letter to the Board of Supervisors, Director Billy Vandegrift said Parker Development’s proposed amendment to the General Plan would “forever preclude a visionary opportunity to create a public treasure in the form of a central park for El Dorado Hills.”
Parker Development’s Plans
Serrano Westside consists of approximately 155 acres north and south of Serrano Parkway and east of El Dorado Hills Boulevard at Serrano’s entrance, including the former golf course. Serrano Westside would be an extension of the existing Serrano development with gated residential neighborhoods including approximately 763 dwelling units, civic or commercial and village park development. Combined with Pedregal, which would be approximately 102 acres adjacent to Ridgeview Village, west of El Dorado Hills Boulevard, north of Wilson Way and south of Gillette Way, the project is called The Central El Dorado Hills Specific Plan.
The Villages of Marble Valley and Lime Rock are being proposed as separate specific plans. The approval processes will run separately but simultaneously.
“A key attraction for the proposed (Central El Dorado Hills) Specific Plan is a 15.3 +/- acre public village park, similar to the size of the Promontory Community Park,” it states on the Parker Development Website.
“The planned park site is adjacent to U.S. Highway 50 in the Serrano Westside Planning Area and its proximity to the transportation corridor allows for the possibility of lighted athletic fields. More importantly, the proposed park provides a permanent green space next to the freeway to act as a scenic corridor. The site is large enough to accommodate two adult-size soccer fields, an adult-size softball field, a dog park or community garden, a concession stand, gazebo, picnic areas, water feature, dedicated parking and permanent restrooms.”
“They wouldn’t have to pay for the land and the fees would be enough to pay for the park without taxing anyone,” said Parker Development’s Director of Government Relations Kirk Bone of why this plan is a win-win for everyone. Further, “The golf course wouldn’t make a good park because it isn’t flat ground,” he said.
The Central El Dorado Hills Specific Plan also states, “Nearly 35 percent of the proposed Specific Plan is set aside as permanent public open space and two prominent ridgelines above the Serrano Westside Planning Area will be preserved in perpetuity.”
Parker Development filed a formal application in November 2012 to begin the project approval process. Letters were sent to all affected agencies and meetings were held to gather comments and to air out any concerns.
“We heard from all affected agencies except the EDHCSD, which didn’t respond until recently,” said Bone. “We’ve never suggested they not go forward with their project. For some reason they feel compelled to tell the county not to let us go forward with our project.”
EDHCSD Director Noelle Mattock sent a letter in March 2014 asking the county to delay making a decision on the proposed General Plan amendment and rezoning designation in the Central EDH Specific Plan for the former golf course property. “We are seeking this time to complete our feasibility study for the purchase, development and maintenance of the property,” it stated. “Further, the EDHCSD appointed an ad hoc committee, which has met with Parker Development seeking to acquire the property in hopes of fulfilling the desires of the community to keep it as open public recreational space. At this time they are unwilling to negotiate as they appear to believe you will approve their project against the will and desires of the community.”
County attorneys responded, saying in a letter they will not intervene. “The project is currently undergoing environmental review; it is currently anticipated the draft (EIR) will be circulated for public comment this summer. The county is expecting to hold hearings before the Planning Commission sometime this fall … The county owes all landowners within its jurisdiction a fair, timely, evenhanded application process.”
The survey was sent after the EDHCSD received this letter.
Earlier, EDHCSD directors passed hiring a consulting firm to create the survey by a 3-2 vote. Directors Billy Vandegrift and Tony Rogozinski voted against creating the survey, which cost taxpayers $26,000.
At the CSD Board of Directors meeting May 8, Mary Shilts from SCI Consulting Group broke down the survey results her firm gathered and recommended further action.
Of the 8,000 surveys mailed to El Dorado Hills residents, 2,541 were mailed back or taken online. “This is a 32 percent response rate, one of the highest we’ve seen recently,” said Shilts.
Three possible annual rates were studied to see about support. Seventy-nine percent of respondents voted they’d definitely or most likely support a $58 annual tax. Sixty-five percent said yes to $79 and 52 percent supported $98.
“You could go to the ballot today and win with these numbers,” said Shilts.
Most of the presentation then focused on whether the CSD should pursue a parcel tax or benefit assessment in November, with the final recommendation for a $68 flat parcel tax on every home in El Dorado Hills.
Eighty-five percent of respondents were single-family residential property owners.
Of the 10 survey questions, people felt most strongly about preserving the golf course as open space and not rezoning it for residential or commercial. Next they’re interested in improving and maintaining property values. Third is making sure funds from a possible measure would be locally controlled.
That the measure would fund the construction of sports fields came in as the lowest priority, yet still in the majority.
“Residents are concerned about slowing down development, reducing traffic and preserving open space,” Shilts said in her final comments.
“I’m here to make sure the golf course remains open space, per the General Plan,” said longtime El Dorado Hills resident Wayne Haug at the meeting. “I was pleasantly surprised by the survey. However, the CSD has the authority to condemn that property (otherwise known as eminent domain). I encourage them to get an order of immediate possession like (what) happened for the Kings arena. If Parker donated the land to the CSD he’d get a better return than going through that rigamarole.”
“I support a ballot initiative in November that would keep it open space. Sixty-seven percent is attainable,” said Haug. “I will throw down the gauntlet, though. The people of El Dorado Hills need to pay for it. It’s not a freebie. Sure we like open space, but are they willing to pay for it?”
The lingering question is what the 98 acres of former golf course land is worth and whether the tax could even pay for it. Kirk Bone said appraisals would have to be done.
Before the directors adjourned the meeting for closed session and private talk with counsel about next steps, Director Wayne Lowery said, “We need to support the community and be leaders.”
If the EDHCSD directors pursues a ballot initiative for November, they need to file by July 1.