Both sides claimed divine intervention Tuesday during a Board of Supervisors hearing on the proposed Harrington Business Park development in Diamond Springs.
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Gene Thorne, representing the developer, was telling the supervisors that the project would only use about 32 percent of the 77-acre property when there was a loud “pop” and the board chambers went completely dark.
Board Chairman Ray Nutting got some laughs during the few-second blackout when he said, “Please continue Gene.”
“It’s a sign from God not to do this project,” said a woman in the audience as the lights came on.
“Well, I’m still standing,” Thorne countered.
Absent Supervisor Norma Santiago, the board would eventually vote to allow the first phase of the project to move forward but not before one more heart-stopping “pow” and descent into darkness.
The second incident occurred a few minutes later while Judy Mathat was at the podium expressing concern for preservation of the historical Golden Chain, that is, Highway 49 that connects the foothill Gold Rush towns.
The events were later determined to have been caused by the government center’s on-site generator “kicking in,” said Supervisor Jack Sweeney.
Two weeks earlier, the business park issue came before the board with a recommendation for approval from the El Dorado County Planning Commission. At the March 8 hearing, testimony was taken from a number of residents opposed to the project. One of them, Sharon Mellor, told supervisors that a portion of her property would be “taken” to complete a short stretch of a proposed road from Pleasant Valley Road /Highway 49 into the developer’s parcels.
Referred to as “Road A” in the proposal, it would become the last leg of a four-way intersection at Patterson Drive between Diamond Springs and El Dorado. County planners and county Department of Transportation engineers had advised that building the intersection at that location should be one of the conditions for approval of the larger project.
Alternate routes into and out of the property were suggested, such as turn lanes on each side of Highway 49 east of Patterson Drive, but they would have required widening of both sides of the highway and were not likely to get approval from the state, according to the local DOT.
Mellor told the board at the earlier meeting that she had never received notice of the proposed development and therefore could not have known it would affect her property. She asked supervisors to give her more time to study the matter. The board agreed to continue the matter for two-weeks, during which time Thorne could try to work out a satisfactory agreement with Mellor.
Tuesday, Mellor again addressed the board and said she had met with Thorne but that no “negotiations” had occurred and that she had not been offered anything for the disputed portion. Planners calculated that approximately 2,800 square feet of Mellor’s parcel would be required.
However deputy county counsel Paula Frantz explained that because of existing easements bordering the lot, the correct number would be about 1,100 square feet. Mellor’s land covers about 28,000 square feet, according to Chief Planner Pierre Rivas, who represented the county’s Planning Services Department.
Rivas also reminded the board and the audience that the issues under consideration do not constitute a “development plan.” Instead they involve a rezoning of a portion of the property, a plan to mitigate certain environmental issues, a condition that the developer add a sound barrier fence to a part of Road A and approve a tentative parcel map.
In future, each parcel within the project area will be subject to the county’s “design review” process before any development or improvement may be made. Planning services director or other staff will likely have design review authority over the “internal parcels,” while the Board of Supervisors will have the final word on the several parcels that front on Highway 49, Rivas explained.
Mellor made an emotional appeal to the board not to “deny my constitutional rights” and read a section of the California Constitution that regulates how and under what circumstances a public entity can take private property.
Nutting later backed Mellor indirectly on that part of the issue when he voted not to approve the proposal as written.
“I’m not voting for eminent domain,” Nutting told his colleagues. “I’m very supportive of this but not if it leads to eminent domain. If our motion is to get them to work it out, (I’ll support it.)”
Frantz provided a brief tutorial on eminent domain. She explained that the county (or other public agency) would have to make an extremely compelling case that “condemning” and transferring private property to another party was both necessary and in the best interest of the community. Throughout the state, such action is rather rare, Frantz noted.
Camino resident Sue Taylor, a frequent critic of certain kinds of development and Laurel Stroud, a member of the Diamond Springs Citizen Advisory Committee, both challenged the proposal. Taylor called it a threat to the historical and rural nature of the Highway 49 corridor.
“Please balance the needs of nature with the needs of business and with the needs of our natural resources,” Taylor said.
Stroud expressed concern that preliminary requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act had not been observed by the developer or planners. Specifically, she said the CEQA requirement to evaluate the “cumulative effects” of proposed development had not been adequately addressed.
Planners and the Planning Commission had recommended that the board accept a negative declaration regarding the proposal. A “neg dec” indicates that a project is not likely to have a significant negative effect or impact on the surrounding environment.
Stroud told supervisors she was also concerned that a traffic study and the issue of lighting had not been fully addressed.
Sweeney assured Mellor that the county “is not going to take her off her property” and that the proposal, particularly the intersection is “the best design for the well-being of the county.”
He also pointed out that at various times in the past 100 years or more, the proposed project area had been the site of the Caldor Lumber Co. and then a successful pig farm.