El Dorado County Supervisors overrode their planning commission’s recommendations regarding a residential property development known as the Wilson Estates off of Green Valley Road in El Dorado Hills. In a nearly five-hour session Tuesday afternoon and evening, the board voted 4-0 to “conceptually deny” the developer’s request for rezoning of the 28-acre Wilson property. District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago was absent due to illness.
Opponents of the proposed 49-home project outnumbered those in favor by about 2-1 in the nearly full board chambers, but applause was vigorous as each side made its own points during the hearing. Much of the discussion centered on whether or not El Dorado Hills should be considered rural or something other than rural. If the former, opponents, which included the Green Valley Alliance, Shingle Springs Community Alliance and non-affiliated individuals, consider that 49 homes on 28 acres would be incompatible with a more bucolic lifestyle shared by neighbors of the property. While current zoning sets the parcels at R1-A, typically one residence per acre, the property was designated for High Density Residential development in 1996 thus allowing up to five dwelling units on one acre. Developers sought to have about 40 percent of the property rezoned to R-1 which generally would allow up to five homes per acre and approximately one-third rezoned to R-20,000 or approximately one house per half-acre. According to the tentative map, another three parcels would have remained in the R1-A designation.
Zoning, however, may be different than the designation of residential “density.” The original zoning categories are based generally on the conditions at the time but must remain flexible to changes that may occur over a number of years. Thus, while today’s R1-A indicates one dwelling unit per acre, new density figures calculate some R1-A parcels as appropriate for “High Density” development of 1 to 5 dwelling units per acre.
Peter Maurer, principal planner with the county’s development agency, described a complex issue regarding zoning designations in an e-mail to the Mountain Democrat Wednesday.
“The general plan land use designation identifies areas that are suitable for a certain level of development either now, or in the future.” Maurer wrote. “The zoning is intended to implement the plan. So we may have areas identified for future development, but due to current lack of infrastructure or other reasons, (they) are currently zoned for a much lower density. There is a policy that allows lower density zoning until such time as the infrastructure is available.”
The current R1-A zoning of the Wilson Estates site was established in the mid-1980s within the El Dorado Hills/Salmon Falls Area Plan, Maurer explained, but further noted, “Additionally, while we have tried for many years, we have been unable to complete the zoning ordinance and zoning map update to bring the zoning into conformance with the general plan … There are a number of similar inconsistencies throughout the county. These will be made consistent when the board adopts the zoning ordinance update.”
Because of the density range established for R1-A at 1 to 5 homes per acre, “an R1-A zone is compatible or consistent with the High Density Residential designation,” he added. “Recent interpretations by the Board of Supervisors state that the policy language allows R1-A as a consistent (with HDR) zone.”
District 2 Supervisor Ray Nutting had pointed out an inconsistency between documents at hand and a table that is found in the county’s general plan. Maurer sent a followup e-mail Thursday further explaining consistency issues between the general plan, zoning and density rates.
If a Safeway and a Starbucks are only a mile away from one’s home and neighborhood, can that neighborhood realistically be considered a rural area? Such was the perspective of the Wilson family and a number of other supporters of the project. Pat Kriz suggested that El Dorado Hills as originally envisioned “was never intended to be rural,” and she cited early population projections of 120,000 “at full buildout.” Traffic mitigation goals “have been or are being met,” she asserted.
Wilson family member Julie Beecher later expanded on Kriz’s remarks saying, “This isn’t out in the country. We’re farmers and we don’t want urban sprawl. The General Plan is supposed to allow us to do this. It’s not fair to put it back to medium density; it’s been high density since 1996 and in a community region. People want smart, intelligent growth.”
Maintaining the family’s perspective, co-owner Katie Ryan told the board, “we’re not flippers or deep pocket developers.” She added that the family has made a large investment to acquire the tentative map in a way that represents “responsible growth in El Dorado County.”
Matriarch of the property Ann Wilson also described the project as “an improvement to our community, an asset to El Dorado Hills.” She said that questioning of the family’s intentions was “insulting.”
Each side portrayed the other as “irresponsible” for twisting the facts or skewing data to bolster its arguments. The anti-project forces have produced a slide-show called the “12 Days of Wilson’s” which describes a worst case scenario, potential project that could put 88 units into the 28-acre site by maximizing the density rates. That would create inappropriate and unacceptable impacts to the surrounding neighborhoods, the presentation suggests.
Crosariol challenged much of the “12 Days” noting that, “The 49-lot map that is before the Board of Supervisors accurately accounts for all of the subdivision design standards, site constraints, access, and road rights of way. The zones that were placed on the map cannot be effectively re-subdivided into a denser configuration without a rezone request to accompany it.” He also took issue with the treatment of environmental impacts described in the slide-show alleging that the producers had photo-shopped images to appear different from what they really are regarding traffic congestion and environmentally sensitive areas.
Much of the opposition to Wilson Estates is based on fears that the project could become a “springboard to high density” development in the future. Area resident Bill Welty called it a “tripwire for the rest of the county” and warned that the project would increase traffic and congestion especially along Green Valley Road. He advised that “anyone who drives Green Valley Road knows it’s Level of Service F (that is failing under the county’s Measure Y traffic impact law).” Welty urged the board to consider a reduction in the project from 49 to 20 units and called that a “good solution, a win-win.”
Lori Parlin, a member of the Shingle Springs Community Alliance, referred to the project as “a tipping point for larger, more invasive projects.” Parlin also challenged supervisors “to stand up for your constituents, for the general plan and Measure Y” and to preserve the community characteristics.
Measure Y Committee representative and former county supervisor Bill Center disputed traffic impact data developed by the project proponents and he chastised county “staff as advocacy for development” and called the proposed rezone a “blatant piece of spot zoning.” Center also noted that “opponents have property rights too.”
Denying a rezone
As it became clear toward the end of the hearing that supervisors were leaning heavily toward not approving the rezone request and had chipped away at the project as proposed, Crosariol became somewhat testy. He reiterated that despite the fact that “the family has been good (amenable to change and negotiation), I’m the John Boehner — I might as well give it all up to the Democrats and Obama.”
That remark drew a rumble of disapproval through the audience and a request for more civilized discourse from the board.
Board Chairman Ron Briggs praised the Wilsons for “doing everything the county required,” but he agreed with District 1 Supervisor Ron Mikulaco “that R1-A is right for the area … I’d like to split the baby (please both sides). I’m sorry for the Wilsons and don’t want them to spend any more money, (but I’m going) to move to deny the rezone.” He also asked county staff to work with the family to redesign a project with 28 units rather than 49.
Crosariol had earlier offered a “solution” which would have rezoned part of the property in such a way as to drop the total from 49 to 40. He called that a “very fair and reasonable splitting of the baby.” He said a “conceptual approval would be OK,” and “I hate walking out of here with nothing.”
Briggs advised him to return with a map with 28 houses and to study the possibility of installing septic tanks instead of the more expensive sewer hookup systems and assured Crosariol and the Wilsons that a denial would be “without prejudice.”
County Counsel Ed Knapp then advised the board to change the action to a “conceptual denial” which the four supervisors then approved unanimously.