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Neighbors resist plans for big box retail in Town Center West

BED BATH AND BEYOND? — Springfield Meadows resident Terry Thomas stands in his driveway and ponders the future of the neighboring, mostly vacant Town Center West site which could become home to large retail stores under a pre-application recently filed by the Mansour Company. Village Life photo by Mike Roberts
BED BATH AND BEYOND? — Springfield Meadows resident Terry Thomas stands in his driveway and ponders the future of the neighboring, mostly vacant Town Center West site which could become home to large retail stores under a pre-application recently filed by the Mansour Company. Village Life photo by Mike Roberts

Tony Mansour would like to add large retail to his Town Center West project, the 130 acres west of Latrobe Road and north of White Rock Road.

At a meeting last Wednesday residents of the neighboring Stonebriar and Springfield Meadows communities voiced their concerns about “big box blight” — noise, pollution, crime, etc. — near their homes and they claim Mansour’s breaking a 1995 agreement that doesn’t include retail on the property.

Mansour did not attend the meeting but later spoke with Village Life, saying, “We’re not going to throw them under the bus or jam something down their throat.”

Mansour officials said the 1995 development plan that specifies office, light industrial and ancillary retail uses is no longer feasible in today’s market, and promised that the existing design standards wouldn’t be lessened for the proposed large retailers. The site was originally planned to be an employment hub for electronics companies including Mnemonics, JVC, Mitsubishi and others. The only current tenants are Blue Shield and another commercial business.

“The market shifted,” said Mansour later in the week. “JVC went to Laguna, Folsom got Mnemonics and CPM sold out. We were stuck with light manufacturing uses that no longer work in that area.”

The site’s development plan is formally known as a “Planned Development.” It currently allows 1.5 million square feet of building on the site, plus a hotel. The proposed amendment reduces the total square footage by one-third, but allows 350,000 square feet of retail — up from 66,000 — in addition to the other uses.

By comparison, Town Center East is approved for 1 million square feet plus a hotel, 800,000 square feet of the project have been built.

Roughly 70 neighboring residents turned out at the Holiday Inn on July 20 for a presentation on plans for the site hosted by Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Debbie Manning.

Attendees concedes that they bought homes adjacent to 130 acres of clearly marked commercial zoning, but cite the fact that Mansour created a detailed development plan, approved by the county, that specified uses they deemed acceptable when they bought into their neighborhood.

County Principal Planner Pierre Rivas explained to the crowd that the amended plan is in the “pre-application” stage — an informal “running up the flag” to get the opinion of the public, the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors before filing an actual application.

“I’ve done a hundred of these and this is the first time I’ve seen the applicant communicating with the public this early in the process,” he said. “Consider yourselves fortunate.”

An ensuing rumble of discontent indicated that most residents did not feel “fortunate.”

Attorney Craig Sandburg provided a brief history of the area, which is also a history of El Dorado Hills. He described how Mansour bought most of what is now considered El Dorado Hills in 1979 and 10 years later created the El Dorado Hills Specific Plan, which included a 200-acre Town Center broadly zoned commercial, which allows a full gamut of uses, including all types of retail.

Separate development plans for the east and west area followed in 1995, defining specific uses.

Doug Weile teamed up with Mansour in 1996, eventually moving his family from the Bay Area to El Dorado Hills and serving as a leasing agent, consultant and other duties as assigned — apparently including contentious neighbor meetings.

He pointed out that flexibility was built into the PD process. “The county gave us great latitude to build the Town Center you see today,” he said. “The planned development … had no supermarket or car dealer. The Mercedes site was supposed to be a go-kart track.

“The development plans for both east and west Town Center were created long before specific clients were lined up,” he continued. “There were only 13,000 people here at the time. We put these plans together as guidelines for likely uses.”

Rivas later confirmed that Mansour was granted substantial flexibility in the Town Center East planned development, and the eventual uses were consistent with the general plan and the specific plan, “as are the proposed changes in Town Center West.”

“These permits are not set in stone,” he said. “They get changed. There’s a process for that, which includes plenty of opportunity for public involvement. That’s really all Tony is asking for here.”

Several residents asked variations of three basic questions. Why retail? Why now? Why here?

Other than Target, Town Center East’s retail is mostly smaller specialty shops, said Weile. “There remains demand for more major retail here, in excess of what’s available, even now, coming out of the recession. Merchants are opening stores again.”

Springfield Meadows resident Rusty Everett countered, “There’s no shortage of retail in El Dorado Hills. Town Center is full of empty stores. Palladio Mall (in Folsom) is sitting empty.

“What you’re talking is large box retail,” Everett said. “That brings noise pollution, light pollution, food pollution, rodents and crime. We didn’t sign up for that.”

Everett warned his neighbors that their property values would decrease, and predicted that the sales tax revenue gained from the proposed retail wouldn’t offset the property tax loss.

He credited Mansour for doing a good job on Town Center East. “But you didn’t try to squeeze it in next to a housing development.”

Other residents at the meeting volunteered that they’d rather drive the five miles to Folsom to shop, a sentiment that won’t sit will with county officials trying to stem the tide of taxable sales that flows across the county line every day.

Bill and Cheryl Chieki bought their home at the end of Dover Court in 1996 after meeting Mansour in one of the wine and cheese socials he held to promote El Dorado Hills. “We bought into the plan,” said Bill.

The marketing package they received in 1996 described the neighboring commercial buildings as “garden office,” set 90 feet from the fence line and backed by light industrial to the east, said Cheryl Chieki on Thursday morning. “They would be there from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and not weekends. We thought we could handle that.”

Mansour said later he doesn’t recall using the term “garden office,” and asked if it’s mentioned in the planned development. It’s not.

“I wouldn’t have bought this house if there was going to be Target on my fence line,” said Bill Chieki on Wednesday night. “We made our decision based on thinking you would do what you were supposed to do. I understand that markets change. But you can’t throw us away.”

Chieki worried that land and entitlements would end up in the hands of an offshore investor that lacked Mansour’s concern for the community.

“He’ll be gone before this is done,” he said. “The next guy isn’t going to be kinder than Tony.”

Weile confirmed that the Mansour Company might not build the retail, but said they were willing to work with neighbors to ensure strict design standards.

“All kinds of things can be done,” he said. “Limited operating hours, loading from the side, no trash out back, light, noise, sound walls, landscape buffers,” all deed-restricted or mandated by design guidelines.

Weile’s only caveat was retaining the green belt that runs through the parcel and limits setback distances from the western boundary.

On Friday Weile further suggested that neighboring residents be granted a couple of seats on the project’s design review committee.

But residents on Wednesday night weren’t placated.

Realtor Colleen Voss-Vakili said she moved to El Dorado Hills because it was a “quiet affluent community.”

“I don’t want to live next to a strip mall … a Walmart or a dollar store,” she said. “I’ll go back to San Jose if it comes to that.”

Weile, collar open and shirt tails hanging out over his jeans, tried to blunt the negativity by pointing to Mansour’s track record.

“Look, he’s not a saint, but when Tony bought 8,000 acres in 1979 he set a vision for this community. He lives here. He set the standards you like … the big lots, the landscaping, the street designs, they all came off his desk and he hasn’t abandoned that.

“He’s passionate about this community.”

Softer voices
Terry Thomas’ property also adjoins Town Center West. Like his more vocal neighbors he would prefer office or light industry uses on the site, “unless there’s some benefit for everyone,” he said.

He said he clearly hears the DJ at Relish Burger Bar, and suggested that a landscaped sound wall might solve a lot of problems. Thomas also mentioned that his largest concern is the county-mandated pedestrian walkway between his neighborhood and the project, originally proposed for Montrose Way.

Stonebriar resident Michele Meisner argued for a pedestrian connection, and said a well-designed retail project would enhance home values.

She envisions a downtown community where people walk to Town Center’s shops and restaurants. “I’m excited about the development of this area, and hope that we have some input about the designs and the types of businesses that go in there.”

“We came here because of the Town Center,” she said. “I would much rather see a beautiful store than an extension of the business park.”

Mansour sat in Town Center’s Olympus coffee shop on Friday morning and reflected that he’d held the land for 30 years, paid assessments, paid taxes, serviced his debts and built roads.

“I can’t wait for the market to come back for garden office,” he said. “It could be 20 years.

“In ’95 we had Mitsubishi and JVC lined up but that business is gone,” he continued. “The PD has to respond to the market or the process doesn’t work.”

The Town Center magnate outlined his two options. “Either I give it to the bank, let them cut it up so some offshore investor can buy the note and build what they want, or ask this community to trust me.

“I think my record speaks for itself.”

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10 Comments for “Neighbors resist plans for big box retail in Town Center West”


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  1. We live in one of the affected neighborhoods and know a great many neighbors, but do not know a single resident who is in favor of the proposed zoning change, PARTICULARLY the pedestrian path from Montrose Way! We bought on the promise of “Garden Office” and we need Mr. Manseur to keep his word on that. A zoning change would be terribly unfair to homeowners, and if it passes in this part of El Dorado Hills, it’s only a matter of time before it happens elsewhere in town. All EDH homeowners need to unite to preserve quality of life and protect property values in our wonderful little town.

  2. After reading this story I am dismayed at the apparent bias of the writer toward changing PD95-02. This story left me wondering if he and I had attended the same meeting at the Holiday Inn last Wednesday, July 20th. Aside from several factual errors in the article, the overwhelming tone of the meeting was completely missed by the author. Of the residents in attendance, only ONE voiced support for this change in use and the drastic and negative impact it will have on not only the nearby residents, but all of El Dorado Hills. I would ask the editor of the Village Life to please contact the affected neighbors and try to write an article that incorporates BOTH points of view, rather than this article, which looks to have come from the Public Relations firm employed by the Mansour Company. Objectivity is seriously lacking in this article and any one of the approximately 70 residents who attended this meeting can attest to this fact.

    Pat Ronan

    • As the author of the story, I’d like to clarify a couple things. First of all, thanks Patrick for investing some parking lot time on me, and for providing me a copy of the PD.
      Second, I tried to make this an “issue” story more than a meeting story. There’s a lot of history – yes, I realize that I didn’t tell it all. I also tried to shed some light on technical planning things that are very pertinent here.
      The attendees at the meeting opposed the project for a myriad of reasons, I tried to pick the best ones for the story.
      I also tried to frame that opposition within the history of Town Center, and the definition of the 1995 “planned development” vehicle (PD) that prescribed the office and light industrial uses.
      I appreciate that the residents don’t like my conclusion that PD’s aren’t carved in stone.
      Lastly, I am not the public relations arm of Tony Mansour, Bill Parker or any other developer.
      Village Life tries to understand, respect and sometimes convey the role of key developers in defining this community, but that doesn’t keep us from running asbestos stories, fireworks misfiring stories or, in 2005, Home Depot being shot down by the county.
      My editor, Noel Stack, has encouraged a spokesperson for the residents to submit an opinion piece stating their concerns in their own words, and is saving space in next week’s Village Life.

      • Thank you for the reply Mike. I am sure that after reading the PD that I provided to you, you would agree that aspects of the PD are meant, not as a “maximum effort” on behalf of the developers, but at the least as a starting point in terms of use impact mitigation. And therefore, after reading the PD – it clearly has BPO (the least intense use) being placed along the fence line as mitigation for the acknowledged more intense uses of Town Center West. I refer you to page 4 section 1.3 “‘BPO’ – Uses of a business and professional nature which can be accommodated within traditional office settings including administrative and governmental offices and corporate offices of businesses not otherwise allowed withing the Town Center West Planned Development such as construction and engineering firms will be permitted in those Planning Areas having the BPO designation. These uses shall provide a TRANSITION and BUFFER ZONE between the adjacent residential use and the more intense uses within the Town Center West Planned Development…” I think the PD clearly states the forethought put into a development of this type being located adjacent to residential development and also clearly understands that retail and light manufacturing by their very nature are more intense uses. Let’s at the very least not take away carefully crafted mitigation items – let’s keep to the plan on those most basic of issues.

  3. This article failed to mention that the “Meeting” held last wednesday night was not a discussion between Mansour Company and the neighbors. It was a presentation in which the Mansour Company shared their own agenda and presented what they viewed as the benefits of changing PD95-02. There was a limited time at the end of the presentation for comments. It was made very clear that comments were not welcome during the presentation. This “meeting” was not meant to be a discussion; it was not meant to be an open forum; it was merely a “dog and pony show” so that people like Planner Rivas would feel as though the Mansour Company was reaching out to the community. Community members were not invited there to have their opinions heard; they were there to listen. A few questions were answered, but any requests for action or additional information fell upon deaf ears and often, questions were answered with the same response, “Thank you, next question”. The tone of the article above shows that the author did not catch on to the purpose, nor the overwhelming disappointment in the presentation.

  4. Jason Faulkner

    I would have like to have seen the author mention the previous battle over this property. Several years ago a big box retail plan failed. While recalling Mr. Mansours history on the property and the approved PD95-02, I think that bit of information should have definately been included. I would also be interested in hearing who is lined up to lease these buildings.

  5. While my quotes above are accurate i agree that the tone of the meeting is not accurately represented here. Only one resident thought that retail so close was a good idea and let’s be clear Mansour is not going to be building Town Center East here they admitted that type of retail is not what is being proposed they want to shove big box retail here further depressing all home values around El Dorado Hills

  6. Tracy Schumacher

    I am an 8 year resident of the Stonebriar development and I also bought with the understanding that the development that was going to be built was going to be on the order of the business parks south of Whiterock Road. I do not want to live next to a shopping center backed up to my neighborhood! I know how much noise they can create having worked in many of them. Can you imagine the dumpster noise on garbage pickup day? Most big box retailers have pickup at least 3 times a week. If this goes through, I will move! We already get enough noise from the Relish Bar on Saturday nights that my family can’t even hear the TV when the windows are open!

  7. I also attended last Wednesday’s presentation by the Mansour Company in regards to Town Center West. A few points of clarification from my perspective. The author of this article mentioned that “residents at the meeting would rather drive five miles to Folsom to shop” instead of having big box retail in Town Center West. But they also were willing to shop in El Dorado County as long as the retail went into an appropriate spot, one that did not abut established residential neighborhoods.

    I re-read PD-95-02 and while it is true that the term “garden office” was never used in PD-95-02, it was used in Mansour’s marketing material which was given to residents and which outlines PD95-02. As written in PD-95-02, section 1.3 “BPO–uses of land of a business and professional nature which can be accommodated within traditional office settings including administrative and governmental offices and corporate offices of business not otherwise allowed within the Town Center West Planned Development such as construction and engineering firms will be permitted in those Planning Areas having BPO designation. These uses shall provide a transition and buffer zone between the adjacent residential use and the more intense uses within Town Center West Planned Development.” And then a dozen sample permitted uses are listed in the original PD-95-02. The term “garden office” may not have been exactly correct but how would you interpret this?

  8. I am one of the residents directly affected by the proposed changes. I would also like to add that we did attend the meeting last Wednesday at the Holiday Inn. I’m curious as to whether the author of this article attended the same meeting. We purchased our property with the understanding of what was “supposed” to be built next to our property.

    We understand that something will eventually go in the vacant lot; however, the proposed changes are over-the-top and should not be built up directly against several neighborhoods. As is, there are so many vacant retail buildings. I know many of them are one exit up in Folsom, but let’s be realistic. Do you really think El Dorado Hills can handle this much extra retail? Let’s not forget the noise. As is, we can hear the music all the way from Relish Bar, which causes us to close our windows. Can you imagine having this directly behind your house?

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