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City Council faces Baltimore Ravine

Residents have various concerns while proponent sees ‘smart growth’
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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The first phase of a project that could have Auburn’s population booming with a potential 725 new homes and 90,000 square feet of new commercial space could be approved tonight. At 6 p.m. tonight the Auburn City Council is scheduled to analyze and possibly make a decision on Plan Area 1 of the Baltimore Ravine Specific Plan as well as an appeal by Mark Smith, a former Auburn planning commissioner. The meeting is scheduled for Auburn’s City Hall Council Chambers. Smith appealed the two parts of the project the Planning Commission approved at its Nov. 16 meeting: the certification of the final environmental impact report and the large lot tentative map. The Planning Commission also sent a recommendation of approval of Plan Area 1 to the City Council. The entire Baltimore Ravine project is planned to include 725 homes, 90,000 square feet of commercial space and 143 acres of open space. Plan Area 1 is currently proposed for development. This area calls for 270 housing units and 54.5 acres of open space. There is no current timeframe of when Plan Area 2 would come up for development. Baltimore Ravine is located between the westbound Union Pacific Railroad track to the south, Auburn-Folsom Road to the east and Interstate 80 to the north and northwest. It is approximately two miles from Downtown Auburn. The main access for Plan Area 1 is scheduled to be constructed off Herdal Drive. If Plan Area 1 were developed, Rogers Lane would serve as a temporary secondary access point. Once 76 units were built the developer would construct a road connecting Herdal Drive and Werner Road. Perry Ranch Road would serve as a permanent emergency access road. At tonight’s council meeting, agenda items to be considered include considering Smith’s appeal, approving the General Plan Amendment associated with the Baltimore Ravine Specific Plan and Study Area Project, approving the Baltimore Ravine Specific Plan and Study Area Project, and introducing and holding a first reading of an ordinance approving a rezone for Plan Area 1. The agenda also includes the possibility of introducing and holding a first reading of an ordinance approving a development agreement between the city and Baltimore Ravine Investors, LLC and adopting the Statement of Reasons to Permit Development in a Mineral Resource Zone. Opponents of the project have expressed a major concern over the possibility of the housing development being constructed and then remaining empty, adding more homes to Auburn’s already soft housing market. In a previous Journal report JoAnn Martinelli, who lives on Norman Way off Herdal Drive, said nearby neighbors fear the new homes may end up like so many other foreclosures in the local area. “If these homes are foreclosed upon you will have empty lots … where fires could start because nobody’s living there,” Martinelli said. “It could be so disastrous in so many ways.” Stephen Des Jardins, the developer for the infrastructure of the project, said in a previous Journal report that if the project is approved, he would like to see infrastructure construction begin in 2012, with houses potentially going up in less than five years. Sue Thompson, owner of HomeTown Realtors in Auburn, has said that it’s hard to judge any future housing market by today’s market, because the housing market always turns. Baltimore Ravine opponents have also shared concerns about traffic, falling property values, wildlife, historical resources, lack of public safety officers and school overloads. Norman Way resident Norman Chavez said that Herdal Drive would be flooded with vehicles if the project were approved. “They are talking about 270 units,” Chavez said. “You multiply it by two (vehicles) … and you multiply it by three for three trips a day … that is 1,500 trips a day. Traffic is something that should not be ignored.” Norman Way resident Ruth Young said that she was concerned about wildlife in the area. “One of my big concerns is there is no protection of wildlife,” Young said. “Where do they all go? I don’t see a need for the project, because most of us don’t want Auburn to be a Roseville. Our whole lives will be disrupted.” Terry Davis, a conservation program coordinator for the Sierra Club Mother Lode Chapter, said in a past Journal report that he sees Baltimore Ravine as a smart-growth project that will encourage those who live in it to have a smaller impact on the environment. “More than half of the Baltimore Ravine homes would be in higher density, clustered close to a village-style commercial center,” Davis said. “Those residents who live in or near the village will be able to find some of their shopping and restaurant needs within walking distance, without even having to get in their cars. Residents beyond the village will only have a short drive to get many of the things they need, not having to drive to a shopping center miles away. That means Baltimore Ravine residents would be responsible for less air pollution and have smaller carbon footprints than those who live in suburbs or rural residential.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com