Outgoing El Dorado Hills Planning Commissioner Lou Rain voiced the loudest criticism of developer Tom Winn’s proposed Green Valley Commercial Center, located west of Francisco Drive at Green Valley Road. Proposed tenants include a big-box drug store and fast food restaurant with a drive-thru.
The project took heavy flak from neighbors, who wrote letters, signed petitions and lined up to oppose it at the commission’s October and December meetings, claiming its anchor tenant, a big box drug store, was redundant and that traffic coming to and from the center would clog local transportation arteries.
Clogged arteries also came up in the discussion of the fast food outlet, which would generate 80 percent of the center’s traffic, according to the project’s traffic study. But the loudest fast food complaints were environmental: smell, litter, noise and light, all of which residents said would leak into the adjacent Francisco Oaks subdivision.
Rain addressed Winn and project spokesman George Carpenter with characteristic candor and respect: “You seem like good guys … very professional … but you have a difficult property here, and the experts you hired did a bad job for you … and for the residents of El Dorado Hills.”
He cited the 6.8-acre parcel’s access constraints and impact on local residents, reminding Winn and Carpenter that the El Dorado Hills Area Planning Advisory Committee conducted a thorough and highly critical analysis of the project’s traffic impacts, and the Planning Commission echoed many of those same concerns in October.
“Yet here it is again … and nothing has changed,” Rain said. “The traffic on Cambria (at Francisco Drive) still hasn’t been addressed.”
The project’s traffic study conducted in 2011 by Kimley Horn and Associates demonstrates that adding dedicated right turn lanes and other relatively minor enhancements to surrounding intersections would mitigate the project’s traffic impact.
Rain questioned those conclusions and insisted, despite the proposed mitigations, Cambria Way would bear the brunt of the projected 3,388 daily trips to the center, prohibiting left turns onto Francisco Drive and impacting residents of the Francisco Oaks subdivision, which borders the project to the south.
Rain, who lives in the area, but not in Francisco Oaks, reiterated that he and his neighbors don’t need or want another drug store, especially on that site. “I wish you’d listened to us,” he said, then moved to deny support of the project, the first denial he could recall in his four-year tenure on the Planning Commission.
Winn defended the project as the best use of the parcel, and asked that he be given the same opportunity as those who came before him. “The last six acres has the same right to develop … as the first six acres,” he said.
But Winn’s 6.8 acres are running the entitlement gauntlet in a far stricter regulatory climate than their predecessors. The project requires a General Plan amendment and a rezone in a post-Measure Y era that is far more traffic-sensitive than the earlier regulatory climate.
Adding insult to injury, more than 200 new homes have been approved and await development in the area with little to no mitigation at the intersections Winn committed to improve.
Complicating matters even more, the parcel’s southern border, Cambria Way, is 480 feet from Green Valley Road, according to Google Maps.
“Normally we want a minimum of 700 feet,” said DOT spokeswoman Eileen Crawford, who stood by her department’s condition of approval with the prohibition of left turns onto Francisco Drive from both Cambria Way and Embarcadero Drive.
The gated northern entrance to Francisco Oaks is located on Cambria Way, 340-feet from Francisco Drive. The left turn onto Francisco Drive is currently allowed, and residents testified that they do so routinely to get to the popular Safeway Center, elementary and middle schools and points west, including Folsom.
Carpenter reminded the commissioners that Francisco Oaks residents were welcome to turn left into the project, then right on Green Valley Road, then quickly merge left across two lanes to turn left on Francisco Drive, or possibly even make a U-turn.
Francisco Oaks resident and outspoken project opponent Clair LeBeaux called the proposed maneuver “dangerous, especially with kids in the car.”
Alternatively, residents can exit Francisco Oaks to the south via Brittany Way, which connects to both El Dorado Hills Boulevard and Mormon Island Drive, a local street that already suffers high traffic volumes as a commuter shortcut between Folsom and El Dorado Hills.
Some residents argued that two of the three commercial centers at the intersection of Green Valley Road and Francisco Drive suffer perennial vacancies, and another such project would only cannibalize those two centers, dragging prospering businesses down with them.
Other project concerns include the removal of 3.14-acres of oak canopy. The State Appeals Court overturned the offsite mitigation provision in county’s Oak Woodlands Management Plan earlier this year, throwing a major wrench in proposed projects, including the Green Valley Center, with no room to mitigate onsite.
Any county approval of Winn’s project would contain the large caveat that some sort of off-site oak mitigation be allowed.
Area resident Tara McCann questioned why the project was moving through the approval process with the oak mitigation outstanding, and also took aim at the traffic study’s corner site distance measurements, calling them “egregiously dangerous.”
She worried that delivery trucks would block multiple lanes exiting onto Green Valley Road, and also questioned the site’s drainage, concluding that a full environmental impact report, rather than the short-form mitigated negative declaration, should be required.
Carpenter acknowledged concern over the busy intersections surrounding the project, “But the county has standards for those intersections and we satisfied them in the traffic study,” he said.
Winn suggested other uses would also generate traffic, then reiterated, “The county has standards and we met them.”
He conceded the fast food restaurant in deference to concerns from residents and let his project stand on its merits.
District 5 Planning Commissioner Brian Shinault called the parcel “well-suited for commercial,” including fast food, because grease-scrubbing exhaust systems can now eliminate odors, but called the traffic mitigations “inadequate,” concluding “right turn only is not a solution.”
Rain’s motion to oppose passed unanimously. A separate 4-1 vote to recommend a General Plan amendment and rezone of the parcel from residential to commercial use passed 4-1 over Rain’s opposition.
The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors will have the last word. Reached by phone late in December, Carpenter said Winn Communities stands by the project and would take it to the board, likely in February.
Footnote: The traffic study predicted that the project as proposed would produce 3,388 new auto trips daily, but a breakdown of the trips reveals that 2,730 of them, more than 80 percent, would be to the fast foot outlet, which Winn conceded. The study contains no projections for a business with lower traffic on the site.