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Dixon Ranch development denied

By From page A1 | February 22, 2017

At the end of a five-hour, standing-room-only El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting Feb. 14, Supervisors John Hidahl, Shiva Frentzen and Michael Ranalli voted to deny approval of the Dixon Ranch subdivision. Supervisors Brian Veerkamp and Sue Novasel favored future consideration of a revised version of the project but opposed full denial.

Dixon Ranch has been on the books for four years and the supervisors were asked at the meeting to accept or reject a comprehensive development agreement between the county and Dixon Ranch Ventures LLC. The county’s Planning Commission had recommended approval with a number of environment-related conditions in a 3-1 vote Jan. 14. District 1 commissioner at the time, Rich Stewart, recused himself.

Project opponents were out in force with buttons and signs reading “Deny Dixon,” Don’t Amend,” “Just Say No” and “I Stand with Green Valley Alliance.”

“Don’t Amend” referred to a request for a General Plan amendment that would have increased the allowable density and a zoning change on the 280 acre parcel off Green Valley Road in the El Dorado Hills Community Region. The project was designed for 605 homes, including approximately 160 age-restricted parcels.

Project opposition was led by the Green Valley Alliance, mostly residents of the general area served by Green Valley Road and Malcolm-Dixon Road. Approximately 100 filled the meeting room and the majority registered opposition during public comment periods. A half-dozen said they favored the project for various reasons, drawing groans and boos from the audience.

Board Chair Frentzen cautioned the crowd several times to be courteous and respectful regardless of whether they agreed with speakers.

Traffic and safety issues highlighted the opposition despite the developer’s willingness to make significant improvements at several spots along Green Valley Road and its tributaries. Traffic studies concluded that the development would add nearly 5,000 vehicle trips per day to the current 11,000 trips and residents spoke passionately about roads’ narrowness and drivers’ speeding on straightaways.

Auditor-Controller Joe Harn challenged the development agreement as one “that does not benefit most citizens.” Since 2013-14, Harn said, “We deferred everything (road maintenance) and if you approve this, you’ll have to cut services countywide.”

He took particular issue with the project’s fiscal impact analysis, calling it inaccurate and “not in compliance with the General Plan Fiscal Analysis element.” Harn opined that an accurate analysis should “be done before land use decisions are made. The way this is rolled out, the fire district takes less money so developers can build houses.” As proposed, he said the benefit to county coffers would be “razor thin at about $10 per unit.”

Chief Administrative Officer Don Ashton also expressed concerns with the financial elements of the agreement, saying, “If it’s OK’d now, the county is taking a risk that voters could overturn (any related) tax.”

The agreement included a 38 percent discount in the Traffic Impact Mitigation fees for each of the age-restricted units, which Harn called a “ridiculous clause … which the Planning Commission should have known.”

Resident Mary Williams questioned county staff’s recommendation for approval of the project “as appropriate for this land,” saying, “It’s not compatible with the area around it.” She challenged a zoning change from agricultural to high-density residential. She drew a big laugh with, “Would you go through with a wedding to the absolutely wrong person just because the wedding was planned and paid for?”

“If the plan doesn’t fit, you must not permit,” quipped speaker Don Larson.

Sue Taylor with Save Our County suggested the project would violate county Measures Y and E regarding levels of service on county roads and called the traffic study “flawed.” She also challenged the adequacy of water and sewer services.

Ellen Van Dyke reminded that a shortage of affordable housing could eventually run afoul of state requirements and said, “We don’t need more high-end houses.” (Joel Korotkin, speaking for the developers, stated earlier that the price range for the non age-restricted units would be north of $400,000.)

Former planning commissioner Stewart spoke later in the meeting, saying the project was not appropriate for the parcel, adding that existing “lights don’t work to move traffic.” He suggested a redesign.

Citing the General Plan, District 1’s Hidahl asked, “Is there a real need for this?” He noted that the county’s greater need is more likely “affordable housing and jobs.” Sharing information he learned at a recent “new supervisor training” by the California State Association of Counties, he said the problem (of resistance to a project) isn’t the California Environmental Quality Act but “jamming a project down the throats of people who don’t want it.”

“I really struggle with this project at this location. The market price is high, TIM fees are high and $480,000 is not affordable housing,” Hidahl concluded.

While eventually voting in the minority, Brian Veerkamp acknowledged that he is not sure the public benefit of the development outweighs the negatives.

“If the project does not go through, how will we fix Green Valley Road?” he asked. “Whether or not this is the right project, what (might emerge instead) could be something less healthy.”

Korotkin acknowledged the concerns of the auditor and suggested the board not vote immediately but “hold off for us to work with the CAO and the auditor … regarding air quality and other issues … We would like to come back on a date certain.”

“I think it should go back to the Planning Commission,” Hidahl responded.

Veerkamp moved to have the board continue the matter “off calendar.”

Frentzen then offered a second motion to deny the project. Hidahl seconded. The Clerk of the Board Jim Mitrisin then polled the supervisors for their votes. Hidahl, yes. Veerkamp, no. Frentzen, yes. Novasel, no. Ranalli, yes.

Asked for further clarification of whether the vote was to deny approval of the development agreement, General Plan amendment and rezone or more broadly for the project itself, CAO Ashton wrote via e-mail, “The vote was to deny the project in total.”

Chris Daley

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Discussion | 3 comments

  • Joe Harn EDC Auditor-ControllerFebruary 18, 2017 - 11:17 am

    I enjoyed reading Chris Daley’s article. I do want to clarify that I didn’t intend to criticize the Planning Commission. I did state that the County staff should have done a better job communicating to the Planning Commission important, unusual aspects of the Dixon Ranch Development Agreement that favored the Developer. My exact statement was as follows: “Madam Chair, in this DA (Development Agreement) there is a clause that since 1850 we’ve never had it in a DA which states we are required to give a 38% TIM fee credit to this developer for the next 20 years whether the nexus study justifies that or not. That should have been highlighted in big bold font for the Planning Commission. “HEY! This is a big change in policy!” There’s a lot of aspects to this DA , this FIA (Fiscal Impact Analysis), that are big changes…”

    Reply
  • Ellen Van DykeFebruary 19, 2017 - 7:08 am

    Thank you Supervisor Frentzen for leading the vote for denial of a project that was completely incompatible with the adjacent rural area and harmful to those of us dependent upon Green Valley Rd, and to Joe Harn for his strong advocacy for denial of a project that would not fiscally benefit the County.

    Reply
  • Joe Harn EDC Auditor-ControllerFebruary 21, 2017 - 11:47 am

    This is the written comment I gave the Supervisors about the Fiscal Impact Analysis: Dear Board Members, Below you will find copies of the two emails that I sent to CDA and Joel Korotkin (the applicant) regarding the Dixon Ranch Fiscal Impact Analysis (FIA). In August of last year I shared with the applicant and CDA a number of concerns that I had with the FIA. The message and conclusion that I reached and delivered in August of 2016 was, “Based on the information that I have at this time, this project would be a bad thing for the County general fund.” Your Board should never approve a general plan amendment unless there is a significant amount of evidence that indicates that a vast majority of the residents in our county will benefit from the project. Dixon Ranch doesn’t meet that benchmark. The applicant’s FIA indicates that the County general fund will make a $10 per home annual “profit” at build out. I believe that the applicant’s FIA is overly optimistic and is based on inaccurate assumptions. If this project is approved as it is being presented to your Board it is extremely likely that you will be forced to cut service levels to our citizens throughout our County. For many months I have been asking for someone to document CDA’s process for evaluating FIAs prepared by developers. County residents deserve a process that provides reasonable assurance that FIAs are evenhanded and free from influence and bias. It is now clear that CDA presents developer prepared FIAs to the Planning Commission and your Board without any reasonable level of examination or scrutiny by the CDA staff. Joe Harn Auditor-Controller El Dorado County

    Reply

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