Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Supervisors knock 40% off Wilson Estates project

From page A1 | October 28, 2013 | 11 Comments

El Dorado County Supervisors overrode their planning commission’s recommendations regarding a residential property development known as the Wilson Estates off of Green Valley Road in El Dorado Hills. In a nearly five-hour session Tuesday afternoon and evening, the board voted 4-0 to “conceptually deny” the developer’s request for rezoning of the 28-acre Wilson property. District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago was absent due to illness.

Opponents of the proposed 49-home project outnumbered those in favor by about 2-1 in the nearly full board chambers, but applause was vigorous as each side made its own points during the hearing. Much of the discussion centered on whether or not El Dorado Hills should be considered rural or something other than rural. If the former, opponents, which included the Green Valley Alliance, Shingle Springs Community Alliance and non-affiliated individuals, consider that 49 homes on 28 acres would be incompatible with a more bucolic lifestyle shared by neighbors of the property. While current zoning sets the parcels at R1-A, typically one residence per acre, the property was designated for High Density Residential development in 1996 thus allowing up to five dwelling units on one acre. Developers sought to have about 40 percent of the property rezoned to R-1 which generally would allow up to five homes per acre and approximately one-third rezoned to R-20,000 or approximately one house per half-acre. According to the tentative map, another three parcels would have remained in the R1-A designation.

Zoning, however, may be different than the designation of residential “density.” The original zoning categories are based generally on the conditions at the time but must remain flexible to changes that may occur over a number of years. Thus, while today’s R1-A indicates one dwelling unit per acre, new density figures calculate some R1-A parcels as appropriate for “High Density” development of 1 to 5 dwelling units per acre.

Zoning designations

Peter Maurer, principal planner with the county’s development agency, described a complex issue regarding zoning designations in an e-mail to the Mountain Democrat Wednesday.

“The general plan land use designation identifies areas that are suitable for a certain level of development either now, or in the future.” Maurer wrote. “The zoning is intended to implement the plan. So we may have areas identified for future development, but due to current lack of infrastructure or other reasons, (they) are currently zoned for a much lower density. There is a policy that allows lower density zoning until such time as the infrastructure is available.”

The current R1-A zoning of the Wilson Estates site was established in the mid-1980s within the El Dorado Hills/Salmon Falls Area Plan, Maurer explained, but further noted, “Additionally, while we have tried for many years, we have been unable to complete the zoning ordinance and zoning map update to bring the zoning into conformance with the general plan … There are a number of similar inconsistencies throughout the county. These will be made consistent when the board adopts the zoning ordinance update.”

Because of the density range established for R1-A at 1 to 5 homes per acre, “an R1-A zone is compatible or consistent with the High Density Residential designation,” he added. “Recent interpretations by the Board of Supervisors state that the policy language allows R1-A as a consistent (with HDR) zone.”

District 2 Supervisor Ray Nutting had pointed out an inconsistency between documents at hand and a table that is found in the county’s general plan. Maurer sent a followup e-mail Thursday further explaining consistency issues between the general plan, zoning and density rates.

“Table 2-4 is in the general plan (pg. 21),” he wrote. “It shows which zones are consistent with the various land use designations. In this case, only R1 and R20K are shown as consistent with HDR. The inconsistency with the general plan is the description of HDR in Policy (which) describes the range of density for HDR as “from one to five dwelling units per acre.” Where there is a discrepancy, the board has the ability to interpret its plan, and they have done so by stating that R1A is compatible with HDR.”
Maurer added this postscript in a third e-mail: “As to density, the board establishes the density through adoption of the general plan land use designation and through zoning. Yes, he who giveth may taketh away…”
A rural area?

If a Safeway and a Starbucks are only a mile away from one’s home and neighborhood, can that neighborhood realistically be considered a rural area? Such was the perspective of the Wilson family and a number of other supporters of the project. Pat Kriz suggested that El Dorado Hills as originally envisioned “was never intended to be rural,” and she cited early population projections of 120,000 “at full buildout.” Traffic mitigation goals “have been or are being met,” she asserted.

Wilson family member Julie Beecher later expanded on Kriz’s remarks saying, “This isn’t out in the country. We’re farmers and we don’t want urban sprawl. The General Plan is supposed to allow us to do this. It’s not fair to put it back to medium density; it’s been high density since 1996 and in a community region. People want smart, intelligent growth.”

Maintaining the family’s perspective, co-owner Katie Ryan told the board, “we’re not flippers or deep pocket developers.” She added that the family has made a large investment to acquire the tentative map in a way that represents “responsible growth in El Dorado County.”

Matriarch of the property Ann Wilson also described the project as “an improvement to our community, an asset to El Dorado Hills.” She said that questioning of the family’s intentions was “insulting.”

Each side portrayed the other as “irresponsible” for twisting the facts or skewing data to bolster its arguments. The anti-project forces have produced a slide-show called the “12 Days of Wilson’s” which describes a worst case scenario, potential project that could put 88 units into the 28-acre site by maximizing the density rates. That would create inappropriate and unacceptable impacts to the surrounding neighborhoods, the presentation suggests.

Crosariol challenged much of the “12 Days” noting that, “The 49-lot map that is before the Board of Supervisors accurately accounts for all of the subdivision design standards, site constraints, access, and road rights of way. The zones that were placed on the map cannot be effectively re-subdivided into a denser configuration without a rezone request to accompany it.” He also took issue with the treatment of environmental impacts described in the slide-show alleging that the producers had photo-shopped images to appear different than they really are regarding traffic congestion and environmentally sensitive areas.

Much of the opposition to Wilson Estates is based on fears that the project could become a “springboard to high density” development in the future. Area resident Bill Welty called it a “tripwire for the rest of the county” and warned that the project would increase traffic and congestion especially along Green Valley Road. He advised that “anyone who drives Green Valley Road knows it’s Level of Service F (that is failing under the county’s Measure Y traffic impact law).” Welty urged the board to consider a reduction in the project from 49 to 28 units (“per zoning R1A, 1 unit per acre”) and called that a “good solution, a win-win.”

Lori Parlin, a member of the Shingle Springs Community Alliance, referred to the project as “a tipping point for larger, more invasive projects.” Parlin also challenged supervisors “to stand up for your constituents, for the general plan and Measure Y” and to preserve the community characteristics.

Measure Y Committee representative and former county supervisor Bill Center disputed traffic impact data developed by the project proponents and he chastised county “staff as advocacy for development” and called the proposed rezone a “blatant piece of spot zoning.” Center also noted that “opponents have property rights too.”

Denying a rezone

As it became clear toward the end of the hearing that supervisors were leaning heavily toward not approving the rezone request and had chipped away at the project as proposed, Crosariol became somewhat testy. He reiterated that despite the fact that “the family has been good (amenable to change and negotiation), I’m the John Boehner — I might as well give it all up to the Democrats and Obama.”

That remark drew a rumble of disapproval through the audience and a request for more civilized discourse from the board.

Board Chairman Ron Briggs praised the Wilsons for “doing everything the county required,” but he agreed with District 1 Supervisor Ron Mikulaco “that R1-A is right for the area … I’d like to split the baby (please both sides). I’m sorry for the Wilsons and don’t want them to spend any more money, (but I’m going) to move to deny the rezone.” He also asked county staff to work with the family to redesign a project with 28 units rather than 49.

Crosariol had earlier offered a “solution” which would have rezoned part of the property in such a way as to drop the total from 49 to 40. He called that a “very fair and reasonable splitting of the baby.” He said a “conceptual approval would be OK,” and “I hate walking out of here with nothing.”

Briggs advised him to return with a map with 28 houses and to study the possibility of installing septic tanks instead of the more expensive sewer hookup systems and assured Crosariol and the Wilsons that a denial would be “without prejudice.”

County Counsel Ed Knapp then advised the board to change the action to a “conceptual denial” which the four supervisors then approved unanimously.

Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.


Discussion | 11 comments

  • 1036-FrankOctober 27, 2013 - 7:09 pm

    Perspective is everything. This area is very rural, it is the remainder of the former Dixon Ranches, and has nothing to do with the high density areas to the West. Safeway and Starbucks are very recent additions and are several miles away. The areas North of Green Valley Road East of Francisco really are in no way related to EDH high-density developments that center on the access of large artery roads. These areas have a lot in common with the Rescue areas which they border. This was the right call by the BOS to allow the development to be one lot per acre, which is very liberal for the area which is surrounded by five acre parcels.

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  • NonsenseOctober 28, 2013 - 6:29 am

    Quick thoughts: 1) State law favors land use over zoning when the former is more current 2) 28 lots on 28 acres does not equal 28 1 acre lots if a road is needed 3) If each 1 acre lot added a granny flat under the Center "plan", then what is different traffic wise? 4) So called "High density" is right across the GVR in Sterlingshire and the Highlands. 5) Hello lawsuit

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  • EllenOctober 28, 2013 - 6:45 am

    Dear Nonsense: 1)the issue is more complex than that, 2)roads can be included in the property boundaries, 3)granny flats may be built on parcels smaller than an acre, 4)Sterlingshire is medium density, not high, 5)'goodbye' lawsuit

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  • JimBoOctober 28, 2013 - 6:33 am

    Just another reason to not invest $$$ in El Dorado County where partisan politics and an ambiguous General Plan update in limbo since 1989 ultimately guarantee project failure. I thought the arrogant Combat Boot wearing Development CZAR Kim Kerr was going to resolve all these "high level" problems ahead of time before they got to the Board? Isn't that her new dictorial position relying on her past Military Police experience? Kim was probably in the basement of Building A digging through all the Bankers Boxes of 1,000 General Plan protests filed in 1995 by property owners desperately attempting to keep the County from confiscating their zoning and GP density. Those boxes were later confiscated by the County Counsel's office from Planning and hidden away forever - Peristroka! Where were you in '89 or '95 Kim?? Humbolt? Some of us were living through this now 25 year General Plan debacle and/or charade depending on how you look at it. I feel somewhat sorry for the Scarlet Letter wearing developers who probably kissed away $100,000's of dollars on consultant's fees during their 20+ year lifetime quest to develop a small subdivision in El Dorado County predictated upon the EDC Planning Department telling them everything looked compliant, and I'm sure they were coaxed along the way by staff. Unfortunately, the reality of interpreting the EDC General Plan and County Development regs correctly these days is probably better done with a Palm Reader, Crystal Ball, Seance, Ouija Board and some good ole under the table political cash payola than relying on what the EDC Planning Department tells you, because even if you follow all the correct steps, you're going to get overruled by a politically driven Board of Supes who have ulterior motives and rely on a word mincing County Counsel's office who speaks based upon which way politically the Board is drifting. Then you're going to have to mentally walk through in your mind the proverbial Carnival Fun House of Mirrors during your project's hearing before the Board where you're told at the last minute of your project's life by the Planning Director that HDR kind of looks like R1A, but R1A ain't HDR due to some Bucolic scrub brush field NIMBY's clinging on to a life they found 7 years ago when they were transplanted in EDH from the East Bay just before the Target was built. While neither zoning or GP are a development right, until the infrastructure reaches your doorstep, according to the County, you can't claim the higher density, so you get into a "chicken and egg" debate in your mind of which came first - the infrastucture or zoning? In the real world, Infrastucture does not get built until zoning is first granted - period. Otherwise projects don't get approved, banks don't lend and contractors don't lay pipe in the ground. How hard is this concept to understand for the Board and staff? Apparently very difficult as most of them have never lived in the real world. After you've walked the mental fun house of Carnival zoning and GP designations and you're told not to confuse the two, and you've played the County Planning's Three-Card Monte game of following the County's rules, the Coloma rafter/developer and one-hit wonder former supervisor Bill Center rises from the ashes in the crowd to put on one of his sensimilla driven Measure Y flash light hand puppet shows on the wall for the Board in a last ditch profoundly moving and touching effort to kill your project. If that ain't enough, then you get the whole whacky and kooky Ying and Yang of irrational reasoning that took over Ron Briggs mind during this hearing. "Split the Baby" terminology? Really? Welcome to development in the EDC.

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  • BillOctober 28, 2013 - 9:05 am

    Jimbo and Nonsense, If the use of one's land was the only issue, EDC planning and development would be a no brainier: Build, baby, build. But inevitably building begats traffic, lots of it. It increases the draw on water resources, it attacks air quality, etc.,, etc. ; which is why folks leave the East Bay, LA, Sacramento, hoping for a better quality of life in EDC; and then beome determined to protect it once they've found it. I agree, the Planning Commission didn't do the Wilson's any favors by ignoring the local outcries against mounting traffic problems. By ignoring Measure Y; it's the law! The county and developers now recognize that their really fine developments of the past were hugely successful! Made good money. But ironically, they attracted a higher end demographic of professionals, from architects and engineers, to lawyers, doctors and yes, real estate folk. And these people know why they moved here, why it's important to protect the quality of life they found here, and they know how to fight to keep it! Developers should think "traffic impacts" and "Measure Y" when drawing up tentative maps. Not, how they can lobby the BOS to ignore these realities. The Wilson project is just one dot in the Google Earth perspective of EDC. Others include the Silva Valley interchange, the central EDH buildout, San Stino, Marble Valley, Dixon Ranch; plus, the 16,000 units already approved. And when these dots are connected, the traffic map for EDC resembles the Bay Area, or LA, or the like. And no one wants that, now or 30 years from now!!! So, let's plan and build accordingly.

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  • EllenOctober 28, 2013 - 6:35 am

    The zoning and land use coverage got a little confusing here; the bottom line is that under the existing R1A zoning, the minimum lot size is 1 acre (...not 5 units to the acre..) which is why the rezone request was necessary for the proposed map to move forward. Had the rezone been approved, most definitely 88 lots could have been pursued in a re-draw of the map WITHOUT the need to apply for another rezone. This is not an assertion, but a fact. That's not fear-mongering, but rather 'informing'.

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  • 1036-FrankOctober 28, 2013 - 8:00 am

    The county suggested "granny flats" are built in such a small percentage of lots as to be insignificant, the developer will have to redraw this to 28 lots for approx. 28.5 acres, which will have to be plus or minus one acre. Keeping this in the R1A zoning is appropriate for the area that borders five acre zoning. These are old Dixon ranch lands in very large open spaces that have nothing to do with high density projects to the west. Developers should take note to stick to existing zoning in place, where in place, for future projects.

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  • Fran DuchampOctober 28, 2013 - 8:13 am

    Town Meeting on zoning in Pollock Pines/Camino tonight at 6 pm Pollock Pines Camino community Center. County will speak first--then concerned citizens. It will be an interesting meeting. It is a public meeting--everyone is invited. If one remembers we were to be the poster child of "visioning" although they were already groups formed. Once people caught on...many in our town stayed away--and it was their brain child. It is always interesting to see who shows--see you tonight. We have rain--tiny patches of snow--that is going fast. Streets are very clear. Someone just said.. what Camino has planned in the next 15 years will be interesting. Camino--what does your small group of decision makers have planned? Camino/Pollock Pines --what is going on?

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  • JimBoOctober 28, 2013 - 8:16 am

    A couple other items from the more recent "playbook" of EDC politics....Ron Briggs doesn't usually vote for projects unless they somehow benefit him or his family...think County Court House development being paid for by taxpayers and also, if Ron Briggs can see the development on a hillside from his own house....No Go.

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  • JimBoOctober 28, 2013 - 8:20 am

    Speaking of density and cramming more units on to a propety, how are the illegal units aka "Slums of Mikulaco" doing in EDH?? Did this little fiasco get quiettly swept under the rug by the CAO's office? Are all the slum units now in compliance?

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  • BillOctober 28, 2013 - 9:10 am

    Supervisor Mik is readily available by phone or appointment. Ask him. He's open and accessible. Nothing to hide.

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