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142-room hotel, commercial Hill Top Center for Bowman wins Placer County Planning Commission approval

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A 142-room hotel complex on a cliffside overlooking Interstate 80 in Bowman has Placer County Planning Commission approval to proceed. The commission voted 6-0 Thursday to approve a conditional use permit and environmental documentation for the project. Hilltop LLC plans a new development off Bowman Road centering on a Marriott Inn. The venture, headed by Windermere Placer County Properties owner Hoss Bozorogzad, also includes retail, commercial and restaurant uses on a prominently placed 7.5-acre site. Controversy had dogged a previous attempt to develop the site 11 years ago for affordable housing. Neighbors in the residential areas around the property had turned out en masse at that time to ultimately convince supervisors to turn the project down. On Thursday, seven people expressed concerns about the hotel project, citing traffic safety, property value, esthetic, view shed and public safety issues. Nearby resident Bob Francis, representing a group of neighbors, said it was disconcerting that the Bowman School board had not been notified. He called on the county to order a full-blown environmental impact report instead of the negative declaration ultimately approved Thursday by the planning board. "If this project is as good as it is, it should survive an EIR test," Francis said. The project drew two supporting speakers, including Jan Decker, manager of the nearby California Welcome Center. Decker noted that the property was already commercially zoned for freeway corridor uses. "You've got to understand the land is going to be developed," Decker said. "I think this is going to be one of the brightest opportunities in this area." On the Planning Commission, Gerry Brentnall voiced strong support, noting that the zoning could allow anything from a car dealership to a Costco to a Scandia Fun Center. “I think it’s a great project, particularly because it’s already zoned commercial,” Brentnall said. Several speakers at the hearing suggested a more detailed environmental study was needed on traffic impacts and other issues. That sets up the possibility of an appeal by an opponent to the Board of Supervisors. It would have to be lodged within 10 calendar days of the decision. Construction of the project will require a significant amount of grading. About 6.5 acres will be graded for building pads and parking, with 44,000 cubic yards of material excavated and more than half of that removed from the building site. A driveway cut on Bowman Road will provide the lone access road to the different levels of the site and a second emergency access will be built off Mill Pond Road. Hill Top will have 245 parking spaces, including 60 that will be underneath the hotel and a second structure holding a restaurant and short-term rental suites. Brad Shirhall, senior planner for the Hill Top project, said that if an application had not been made for a variance on the height of the main building – 45 feet to the top of a corrugated iron rooftop embellishment – the project could have been approved through a minor use permit. The minor-use permit doesn’t require a hearing before the commission. Shirhall added that the developer acted on neighbor concerns about child safety on Bowman Road as children walked to school. Hill Top is required to build a sidewalk on the side of Bowman Road. He said a count showed seven students from Bowman School riding on bikes or walking along the road in the afternoon and one adult and one student in the afternoon. “There are not a lot of students walking up and down Bowman Road,” he said. The Journal's Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.