Dixon Ranch battle begins
Residents of the Highland Hills area in northeast El Dorado Hills oppose a 709-home, high-density subdivision proposed for 280 acres of the historic Dixon Ranch, located on their eastern boundary, between Green Valley Road and Serrano.
On the surface the story looks like a typical “Not In My Back Yard” affair. But a deeper examination reveals an angry, organized and engaged local constituency deeply concerned about a series of proposed residential projects along the Green Valley corridor that they claim will create dangerous traffic levels on Green Valley Road and surrounding residential streets. They challenge a recent traffic study that seems to diminish the severity of the situation.
The battle figures to be a 12-round bout between members of the Green Valley Road Alliance, a loose group of activists with heavyweight resumes, and project proponents who will have to endure a virtual gauntlet of the El Dorado County planning bureaucracy, including regular public floggings at the hands of their opponents.
The winner will ultimately be decided by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, which will contain one member (recently elected District 1 Supervisor Ron Mikulaco) whose property borders Dixon Ranch and has already indicated he opposes it.
Primary access to the project will come via a new traffic signal on Green Valley Road. But what concerns opponents just as much is the proposed “back door” to the project in the Highland View subdivision through tiny Lima Court at the high point of steep, curvy Aberdeen Lane — a residential street with driveways every hundred feet or so and nary a sidewalk in sight.
Residents backing out of those driveways, along with joggers, dog walkers and school children will compete with the additional traffic on Aberdeen Lane and Appian Way. The Green Valley Road Alliance argues that neither Aberdeen Lane or Appian Way meet county standards for a connector street.
A Traffic Impact Analysis prepared by Gold River traffic engineers Kimley-Horn and Associates does little to allay concerns, estimating that just 20 percent of an estimated 6,892 daily trips in or out of the proposed subdivision at buildout in 2025 will use the back door.
Green Valley Road Alliance spokesman Bill Welty questioned the 20 percent figure, noting that the back door would be substantially closer to shopping, school and work than the overcrowded Green Valley Road, which has already turned the Highland Hills neighborhoods into a preferred “long cut” for drivers backed up on Green Valley Road, a situation that will worsen when the new Silva Valley freeway interchange opens.
The Dixon Ranch subdivision also includes five larger lots, one of which is the existing Dixon family home, two neighborhood parks and one Village Park, which could serve as a soccer venue. All together the project includes 84 acres of open space, almost exactly the 30 percent required for a planned development.
The project averages three to four lots per acre, with the densest areas containing up to 10 lots per acre. Highland View residents fume that total Dixon Ranch acreage matches up with their subdivision, which contains only 214 homes.
The ranch’s current General Plan land use designation is “Low Density Residential,” which limits lot sizes to five acres. Neighboring land uses are all residential, high density to the west, low density to the east and rural to the north. The project’s southerly neighbor, Serrano, is a “Planned Development,” which trumps existing zoning and land use.
The proposed density increase requires a General Plan amendment, including a comprehensive Environmental Impact Report, which is pending, plus the recently completed traffic study.
Complicating matters, the project is launching in parallel with a separate, county-initiated Targeted General Plan Amendment process that touches on some of the same issues.
The Dixon Ranch is made up of one parcel owned by Robert and Amanda Pena, Kimberly Dixon, Joyce Dixon and various family trusts, plus three parcels jointly owned by trusts for the Louis and Helm families and one owned by Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, according to the county Assessor’s parcel lookup.
Supervisor-in-waiting Mikulaco repeatedly shared his concern over the size and number of projects proposed for the area during his campaign. He lives on Green Valley Road in an old Dixon family home and anticipates he will have to recuse himself from votes on the project, making it that much harder for the proponents to gain the necessary three votes needed.
But that’s a long way off. The approval process is in its infancy. The El Dorado Hills Area Planning Advisory Committee gave the project a thumbs-down in late 2011. Proponents returned to APAC in March to find an estimated 150 vocal residents in full-voiced opposition, creating what one planning official said was the worst meeting he’d ever attended.
Norm Rowett chairs APAC’s Green Valley Corridor subcommittee, and said APAC will issue its formal response after the upcoming “Notice of Preparation” meeting for the project’s EIR, which is scheduled for Wednesday, June 27, 5 p.m. at El Dorado Hills Fire Station 85, 1050 Wilson Way.
County planning officials will provide a project overview and solicit further written input on potential impacts to be studied in the report. Residents who attend hoping to discuss project specifics will likely be disappointed, warned county principal planner Pierre Rivas, who encouraged anyone with concerns to submit them in writing before July 5 to 2850 Fairlane Court, Placerville, CA 95667, or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
General Plan land-use designations fall within an even broader framework — a three-tier division of all county land into “Community Regions,” such as El Dorado Hills and Placerville, modestly commercial “Rural Centers,” such as Rescue and Pilot Hill, with the balance of the county as a vast “Rural Region.”
Community Regions are deemed appropriate for “the highest intensity of self-sustaining compact urban-type development or suburban type development within the County based on … availability of infrastructure, public services, major transportation corridors and travel patterns, the location of major topographic patterns and features, and the ability to provide and maintain appropriate transitions at Community Region boundaries,” according to General Plan Policy 220.127.116.11.
Rivas points out that Dixon Ranch is located in a Community Region, which gives the applicant a leg up on the density increase, especially since the El Dorado Irrigation District has apparently committed to providing water and sewer service.
GVRA’s Rich Stewart, a retired engineer, conceded the availability of water and sewer, but argued that surrounding road infrastructure must also support the density increase and, he said, neither access is up to the task.
Aberdeen Lane fails to meet several county criteria for even the lowest volume collector road, Stewart argued. Dixon Ranch would push it well above 2,000 trips per day total, which requires a second tier of access limits, setbacks, sight lines, width and traffic controls — all well beyond the capabilities of a residential street with no sidewalks, 15 percent grades and blind curves.
Among the dozens of letters to the board opposing the project, one law enforcement official who lives in Highland View wrote, “I speak from experience; these roads and the roads connecting will not support the increased traffic this project will create. Appian Way and Aberdeen are … steep, curvy roads and are frequently used by joggers, walkers and more importantly, our children.”
Other potential access points that abut the project include Marden Drive and Green Springs Road in the Green Springs Ranch subdivision to the east and Verde Valle Lane off Green Valley Road to the west. None have planned access to Dixon Ranch.
Likewise, Green Valley Road infrastructure is not up to the task, said Stewart, citing high speeds, limited traffic controls and side streets. The GVRA and APAC both call for widening it before any large project is approved.
Porter rough-estimated the cost at more than $1.3 million per lane/mile, because of the steep terrain between Dixon Ranch and Silva Valley Parkway, plus the cost of land purchases and signals.
Rowett said APAC would likely suggest a second Dixon Ranch access to Green Valley Road, in combination with a road widening.
“We’ve seen from past experience that the county can take years to follow through with road improvements to support these projects,” he said, citing the El Dorado Hills Safeway as an example.
Both Welty and Rowett argued that the increased density isn’t necessary. “The General Plan calls for roughly 32,000 homes here,” said Welty. “We’ve done 12,000 and there’s at least another 20,000 already approved. We don’t need any more high density.”