Last Wednesday a community open house was held at the El Dorado Hills Fire Station to highlight a proposed 250-unit luxury apartment complex in Town Center. Representatives from the developer, Stockton-based A.G. Spanos Companies, and county employees were on hand to answer questions during the public comment phase of the project, which concludes June 25.
Once the 30-day public comment period is closed, the county will give its recommendations to the Planning Commission June 26. If the project is approved, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors will vote on it July 29. If all goes as planned, A.G. Spanos regional vice president Alexandros Economou said construction could begin in early 2015.
The 4.56-acre project site is the vacant lot located on the northwest corner of Town Center Boulevard and Vine Street. Units would range from 576 square feet to 1,302 square feet in size with a mix of 62 percent studio/one-bedroom units and 38 percent two-bedroom units offered at a rental price of approximately $1,600 to $2,200 per month. Plans include a bocce ball court, swimming pool, barbecue area and fitness clubhouse. A 5-tier, 60-foot-tall parking structure housed in the middle of the four-story apartment complex would accommodate 436 cars.
“It’s for someone who is a renter by choice, someone who wants a maintenance-free lifestyle,” Economou told Village Life. He said Generation Y renters and empty nesters come to mind. “It will be a live, work, play environment for people who want an engaged, active lifestyle. We’ll offer concierge services like dry cleaning on site or if a light bulb goes out someone will come replace it.”
According to Town Center’s Tony Mansour, plans for a boutique hotel at the site were abandoned in 2009 once the economy plummeted and investors walked away from steep Traffic Impact Mitigation and Transit Occupancy Tax fees, which would have totaled $3 million.
Though TradeWinds Partnership owns the lot, and A.G. Spanos is in negotiations to purchase it for an undisclosed amount, Mansour sees the opportunity as neighbors helping neighbors.
“You don’t know how many people ask me for a residential component in Town Center,” said Mansour. He went on to describe a vision of people living and working there, with the apartments acting as “corporate housing” in some cases, benefiting not only Town Center East, but the Business Park and Town Center West as well.
“There are people who want to be in an urban environment. They want to walk to the movie theater, shops and restaurants,” said Mansour. “We’ve lost a lot of tenants in Town Center, but the apartments would give us one-and-a-half to two people per unit spending in Town Center businesses.”
However, the project proposal includes a General Plan Amendment, which would increase the maximum residential density allowed in the General Plan from 24 dwelling units per acre (du/ac) to a maximum of 55 du/ac for the project site only.
There would also need to be an amendment to the El Dorado Hills Specific Plan to rezone the project site from General Commercial-Planned Development (CG-PD) to Multifamily Residential-Planned Development (RM-PD). Revisions to the approved Town Center East Development Plan design guidelines and standards would also need to be made.
The site is already zoned for a hotel, but Mansour said, “There’s still a chance to build a hotel near the movie theater parking lot,” and, “We’re in the process of acquiring the land.”
El Dorado County Senior Planner Mel Pabalinas explained the county’s job is to give information to the public and then weigh a project’s pros and cons before making a recommendation to the Planning Commission. An Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration (IS/MND) has been prepared that examines the project’s environmental issues, including aesthetics, air quality, biological resources, greenhouse gas emissions, hydrology and water quality, land use compatibility, noise, traffic and utilities.
Still, Ellen Van Dyke with the Green Valley Alliance and Rural Communities United said the process at the county has been too hasty. “The apartment project was submitted Jan. 30, and staff found time to crank out all the necessary amendments (which are extensive) in five months,” she wrote in an e-mail to Village Life. “The Zoning Ordinance update is a complete overhaul of our existing ordinance occurring over the course of multiple years, but staff could not take the time to make a comprehensive list of the proposed changes for county residents, in spite of multiple requests (the strikeout version online is a strikeout of previous drafts, not from the existing ordinance). This says something about how the county prioritizes needs of residents vs. that of developers, or maybe it says something about the changes they do not want us to know about within the ordinance update.
“Regarding the precedent set for increasing the density in El Dorado Hills, staff will tell you it does not set a precedent. That is a classic assertion that does not pass the sniff test as far as I am concerned.”
“We plan to pay several million dollars in TIM fees,” said Spanos vice president Tom Allen at the open house when asked about the project’s traffic impact. “Still, our traffic impact will be less because our parking structure will handle itself. In the end, this project will stimulate the Town Center economy. They don’t need more retail, they need more customers.”
Allen also stressed the infill component of the project, or the use of land within a built-up area for further construction. Infill also focuses on the reuse and repositioning of obsolete or underutilized buildings and sites.
“There are few other, if any, places left in the county to build a project like this,” District 1 Supervisor Ron Mikulaco told Village Life.
The benefits of mixed use and whether the project’s plans could be considered such also came up at the open house, with the Spanos representatives touting the project as horizontal mixed use. The traditional definition of mixed use has retail stores at the ground level and residential space above the retail known as vertical mixed use.
“Vertical mixed use always creates sales tax revenue for the county,” members of the El Dorado Hills Area Planning Advisory Committee wrote in a joint statement to Village Life. “Horizontal mixed use definitions involve residential and retail within the same immediate area, but not within a given project/owner. In APAC’s opinion, the traditional model is the only one that has been proven to be effective due to the fact that it is self-dependent in terms of viability. If an economic downturn occurs, and a given retail center across the street closes/goes bankrupt, etc., the vertical mixed use project has a better chance of surviving than a horizontal mixed use project that is no longer mixed use (it reverts to being just a residential project).”
Further, “A major concern for APAC is increasing the allowable density for multifamily zoning from 24 units/acre to 55 units/acre without a full EIR to determine the impacts to the county land use plan,” continued APAC member Norm Rowett. An IS/MND is an environmental review, though not as extensive as an EIR. “There is nothing unique about this project location and it could be duplicated in many areas of the county causing a substantial impact on county services and the environment.”
“We might actually support an apartment project there if it were 100-125 units, with some consideration for retail on the bottom floor,” said Van Dyke. “Also, people do not realize how the proposed apartment structure will dwarf the other buildings in Town Center. The presumed 60-foot height limit does not include stair or elevator towers, so the actual maximum height proposed is 75-feet.”
A half-dozen concerned residents from A Fuller Sunset Mobile Home Park on White Rock Road also came to the open house. Cheryl Manning has lived there for 12 years and is concerned about more traffic. “It’s already congested over there,” she said. “I’m concerned about getting in and out of my neighborhood easily. More people also equal more crime. When the Valley View apartments were built the sirens tripled.”
The on-site parking structure doesn’t sway A Fuller Sunset resident Scott Lewis, either. “Two-hundred units mean 400 more cars traveling in that area. It’s gonna kill us.” Lewis said more stop signs in the vicinity would at least be “a start.”
The need for more emergency services and water were also a concern, yet Mansour said whether a hotel or an apartment goes in that location the need would be the same. Plus, Town Center businesses have paid their share of taxes. “Our businesses do $1.6 million in revenue every month,” he said. “That’s what pays for services.”
Mikulaco told Village Life, “I’m warm to the idea. It’s consistent with the surrounding area. There are 6,000 employees in Town Center. They could live, work and play there.”
Yet he’s still cautious. “The project needs to go through the process and we’ll see how the issue of traffic is weighed out,” he said. “I’m a county supervisor, not a traffic engineer. I’m curious to hear what the Planning Commission says.”
The project application and information for each of the separate applications are on the county’s website at: edcapps.edcgov.us/Planning/ProjectInquiryDisplay.asp
The comment period for the IS/MND ends June 25 and is available on the county’s website: edcapps.edcgov.us/Planning/ProjectDocuments/El%20Dorado%20Hills%20Apartments%20ISMND.pdf.
Written comments may be submitted to: Mel Pabalinas, Senior Planner, El Dorado County Community Development Agency, Development Services Department Planning Division, 2850 Fairlane Court, Building C, Placerville, CA 95667.