Bass Lake Road: No improvements likely anytime soon
Bass Lake Road area residents and developers again came up short last month when the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors quashed efforts to redesign development agreements signed with the county a decade or more ago. Those DAs run for 20 years. The motion by District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago to continue negotiations with developers was defeated 3-2. District 2 Ray Nutting supported Santiago’s suggestion.
The larger issue of development of the area was subsumed under a request to amend the terms of the Public Facilities Financing Plan, which lays out a protocol for building improvements to Bass Lake Road including the interchange at Highway 50 between El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park.
In its simplest form, the first developer to get a building permit must pay for a substantial portion of the road improvements up front. That individual or company then will be reimbursed as the next projects begin, sometime in the future. The agreements are relatively unusual because there are more than 50 participants representing more than 75 parcels. Some of them are long-time residents on long-time family holdings who are not deep-pocket developers with enough resources to do major road construction in advance of building a few houses to sell. In effect, most of them reportedly cannot afford to be the first to break ground, so they have sought to break down the road work into smaller segments that can be built as needed.
The PFFP was developed in 2004 and confirmed in 2013. In 2004, development was surging in the western parts of the county, and the PFFP appeared to be a reasonable solution to getting infrastructure in place to handle the projected population growth. Initial developers were expected to recoup their upfront money relatively quickly as subsequent developments occurred. The general economic downturn over the following years has effectively halted many projects that had been anticipated.
Prospective developers have pre-paid Traffic Impact Mitigation fees that went into an account earmarked for the county’s Capital Improvement Program, which some developers want the county to consider using now for Bass Lake Road improvements. Several related CIP projects are currently scheduled out to 2023-24.
Led by the area’s largest parcel holders, Winn Communities in partnership with Norm Brown of N.C. Brown Development, George Carpenter, vice president of Winn Communities presented a comprehensive proposal requesting that the board consider altering three elements of the Bass Lake Hills Specific Plan which includes the PFFP: 1) changing the phasing of improvements to Bass Lake Road so that they are constructed when required, instead of with the next final map; 2) changing the required improvements to the Highway 50/Bass Lake Road interchange so that they are constructed when required instead of with the next final map; 3) consider an exception to the Zone 8 TIM fee reimbursement policy to allow TIM fee credits based on the developer’s prepayment of TIM fees to build Bass Lake Road.
The partnership owns the projects known as Hawk View (114 single family lots), Bell Woods (54) and Bell Ranch (113), county Senior Planner Gina Paolini explained in a recent e-mail.
Carpenter also asked that if the board gave “conceptual” approval to all three issues, county staff could continue to work with the applicant to “move forward with further studies and bring project documents and actions back to the board for formal consideration.”
TIM fees are broken down into a local component and a Caltrans component related to traffic impacts on Highway 50. The proposal specified the local component as further explained by Scott Wilson with the county department of transportation’s finance division:
“The applicant proposed that their development’s local component of the Zone 8 Traffic Impact Mitigation fees could be prepaid to the county in one lump sum (approx $4.6 million total). The county could then use that money to build the applicant’s conditioned improvements to Bass Lake Road, or the county could use the funds elsewhere in the TIM fee Zone 8 area. Once the applicant prepaid this sum to the county, the building permits associated with their developments would be credited the amount that they prepaid. So, when the applicant came in to pull building permits for homes in their developments, the amount they pay would be reduced by the amount of the prepay.”
From the county’s perspective, making significant changes to the Development Agreements poses legal questions that have yet to be answered. Not all of the property owners signed the Development Agreements with the county, and not all of those who did are on board for the changes proposed by Winn and Brown. According to county counsel David Livingston, that posed a problem that unless the agreement (to change) was unanimous, the county could not legally alter the agreements.
Carpenter’s views to the contrary, the board generally accepted its counsel’s opinion. “You can’t violate the DA, but you can apply minor changes,” Livingston said.
“We are in agreement that the plan was broken and needs to be fixed,” Carpenter said during the hearing. “We made a breakthrough working with county staff (agreeing that) some improvements (required by the original plan) are way out of balance with reality today. If you want something built there, direct staff to work with us … We’re not proposing any changes (to housing density).”
In some ways Bass Lake Road is the tip of a much larger iceberg. Below the surface are multiple issues of traffic circulation because Bass Lake is considered one of the few north-to-south links between Highway 50 and Green Valley Road. As a narrow, winding road, it is said to be marginally passable at peak driving hours and at or approaching Level of Service F. Levels of Service are transportation designations describing traffic flow and congestion. Like a school grading system, F is considered failing. Level of Service F is not permitted under the county’s General Plan traffic guidelines contained in Measure Y.
Tom Infusino, representing the Measure Y Committee, spoke against the Winn proposal citing the measure’s strictures to base traffic mitigation needs on what is known as well as what is “reasonably foreseeable.” He noted that there are already 7,000 residential units approved but not built in El Dorado Hills and the cumulative impact of that plus hundreds or thousands more should be reasonably foreseeable. “Level of Service F is already up since a couple of years ago (on the affected roads),” he said.
The following description of the financing agreements was prepared by the county’s department of transportation and first submitted along with related documents to the board Aug. 27 of this year:
“The intent of the 2004 PFFP was for projects to be developer advanced with reimbursements to follow. This approach required developers to pay TIM fees and to construct TIM fee facilities at the same time and then wait years for reimbursement of the construction costs. The developer believes this approach to be infeasible. The Specific Plan area is comprised of multiple small land owners and projects, and people with small land holdings have found that paying TIM fees and constructing TIM fee facilities at the same time is an obstacle to development. If the developer intends these projects to be initially funded by the local portion of the TIM, this would not be consistent with the intent of the 2004 PFFP.”
Details of the area, the proposed land use and facilities development are contained in the Bass Lake Hills Specific Plan, which is an element in the county’s general plan. The specific plan was developed in 1995.
The purpose and function of specific plans are outlined as follows by the California State Planning Agency:
“Since the original publication, specific plans have evolved in use and creative application. However, specific plans continue to function as versatile tools for implementing general plans without substantial legal challenge to the nature of their use. They systematically implement the general plan for all or part of the area under its scope in any of three ways: 1) by acting as statements of planning policy that refine the general plan policies applicable to a defined area, 2) by directly regulating land use, or 3) by bringing together detailed policies and regulations into a focused development scheme.”