El Dorado County Supervisors, on Nov. 5, determined that a proposed ARCO gas station and mini-mart on Green Valley Road at Sophia Parkway in El Dorado Hills may proceed with a minor modification to its approved plan. Board action included denial of an appeal by local resident Amy Anders that could have delayed the project by as much as a year.
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The county’s planning commission attached a substantial list of mitigation requirements and unanimously approved the project in September, after which Anders filed her appeal. She is the owner of the Green Valley Center, a commercial site near the proposed project. Anders acknowledged to the board that her appeal was primarily based on what she considers a lack of validity in the California Environmental Quality Act documents related to the project. She told supervisors that she had several relevant concerns but focused on traffic and safety as the foundation of her testimony on Tuesday. She said issues including roadway Level of Service and the prevailing speed on Green Valley Road were not addressed in the CEQA process and that the entire project should have had a full Environmental Impact Report.
She stated that the Planning Commission made its decision to approve the project on inaccurate or incomplete data and urged supervisors to uphold her appeal and send the project back to the planning commission and “back for expert analysis.”
Anders set a trend that lasted throughout the hearing when she acknowledged and repeated several more times that she is “not a traffic engineer.” District 1 Supervisor Ron Mikulaco later also clarified that he is “not a traffic engineer,” as did deputy county counsel Dave Livingston. Though figuring prominently in the Anders appeal, county engineering staff assured the board that the traffic engineering component of the proposed project was professionally produced and valid.
Mikulaco asked Department of Transportation engineer Dave Spiegelberg midway through the meeting, “Are we creating an unsafe situation?”
“I believe we are not creating an unsafe situation,” Spiegelberg replied. He had earlier confirmed his “professional” agreement with the traffic analyses and conclusions contained in the project’s environmental impact documents.
The main safety concern centered on the length and width of the turning area from Green Valley Road into the project and introduced engineering terms such as “drop lane” and “deceleration lane” and a “tapered entrance.” According to the traffic analysis, the developer could “mitigate” the project in such a way as to allow safe ingress and egress with a slight widening of the existing lane. And the impact documents support that conclusion.
Project representative Dan Goalwin challenged Anders over the traffic and safety questions saying, “all CEQA agrees, it’s not a problem (as do the engineers and Planning Commission). No experts think a deceleration lane is necessary.”
Goalwin later characterized his client’s reported willingness to modify the project with some kind of turn lane as “a compromise.”
A standard deceleration lane was described as slightly more than 400 feet, but the parcel in question would only allow about half of that distance paralleling Green Valley Road. Goalwin again noted that “none of our experts said it is necessary … and I don’t (overrule) the experts.”
Perception of both the problem and proposed solution played some part in the general discussion and ultimately in the board’s decision. Mitigation of known or anticipated impacts is part of the approval process. That mitigation of increased traffic may not occur within the next several years is commonplace in land development. In effect, the experts say a project will create an impact, but mitigation measures eventually will correct or at least limit the negatives associated with that impact. Because of the county’s established Capital Improvement Program for roads, traffic and safety issues in the project area are on the schedule to be addressed by future CIP projects the county has already approved. Alternatives to immediate mitigation include payments by the developer for future efforts in the form of Traffic Impact Mitigation fees that are considered “their fair share of the impact improvements,” the agenda documents state.
In CEQA language, the planning commission and later the Board of Supervisors may conditionally approve a project by recognizing one or more “mitigated negative declarations.” That means, county officials acknowledge a potential problem and require it be addressed (but not necessarily resolved) before final approval. The “negative declaration” assures that a project will not result in significant or un-mitigable impacts. Norma Santiago, supervisor for District 5, stated early on that “the project is not a problem for me. I want to know we’ve mitigated it adequately.” And later, she followed up on a positive response by Peter Maurer, principal planner with the county’s Community Development Agency. “So we’re just going to let it happen … and deal with it later?”
“Yes,” Maurer answered. “According to your General Plan, (planned mitigation) applies both to Level of Service standards and safety standards.”
Anders had included a brief video in her presentation which showed traffic congestion seen on Monday, Nov. 4 near and around the county line at the intersection of Green Valley Road and Natoma Road. She described the scene as Level of Service F which is proscribed by the county’s general plan and Measure Y and asserted that the ARCO project would exacerbate the LOS on Green Valley and other roads in the general vicinity.
“I’m floored that you can’t see that intersection is already at LOS F,” Ellen Van Dyke challenged the supervisors. “A deceleration lane should have been required.” Not to have one is “unfair to the applicant, to the appellant and to the public,” she continued. “You need to deny this project.”
Several other local residents voiced similar concerns while another two or three area business owners supported the proposed project as it has been approved. Mikulaco questioned whether or not the board would be in violation of its own general plan’s Measure Y if it denied the appeal, thus effectively approving the project.
“No, for a couple of reasons,” Livingston responded. “The study says there will be no LOS impact that (could not be mitigated).”
Concern with and disagreement over the Level of Service on Green Valley Road and other west county roadways have been core elements for community action groups such as the Green Valley Alliance and the Shingle Springs Community Alliance — grassroots activist organizations opposing specific residential developments in their neighborhoods. Van Dyke is a member of the Green Valley Alliance that led the fight against a proposed 49-unit development known as Wilson Estates. Earlier this month, county supervisors restricted the project to 28 homes on the property’s 28 acres. The Shingle Springs group opposes the planned 1,000 home San Stino development. Both groups have focused their opposition on traffic, safety and level of service on rural roads.
Supervisors accepted Livingston’s recommendation to deny the Anders appeal and “conceptually” approve the ARCO project with the addition of an acceptable drop lane or tapered entrance feature. The vote was unanimous.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected] Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.