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Drexel, Tsakopoulos group nearing donation agreement on 600-acre university site west of Roseville

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Drexel University and a property-owners’ group that includes Sacramento developer Angelo Tsakopoulos are nearing agreement on the donation of almost 600 acres in west Placer County targeted for development as a regional university. But not everyone is happy about it and if supervisors approve university plans, it could lead to litigation. Two of the three property owners have signed a contract that would give Philadelphia-based Drexel University a five-year window to accept the gift. "The idea is to give them enough time for studies on developing a university in Placer County," said the group’s university project attorney,Tim Taron. "If they eventually don't accept or do and later decide not to, Drexel's responsibility would be to pass it on to another university or government organization." The three donors are Sacramento developers William Cummings and Angelo Tsakopoulos, and Placer 2780, a limited partnership. Cummings has yet to sign but could have questions about the pact answered and be ready this coming week, Taron said. Drexel has also signed the donation contract, he said. Tobey Oxholm, acting director of Drexel’s new graduate school in Sacramento, said the university is now testing the local marketplace. The graduate center will start small in January with five master’s degree programs. The privately funded university’s expectation is that the community will embrace Drexel and the school – which has 21,000 students on an 80-acre campus in Philadelphia – would move to have two campuses, he said. “We’re looking at this as an incredible opportunity,” Oxholm said. Placer County Planning Commission voted Thursday to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that it approve what amounts to a strong backbone of support for plans still to be clarified on the design of the campus. The board also gave its blessing to a project development agreement detailing how a regional university would pay for infrastructure, transportation improvements and county services. In all, the three property owners are prepared to donate 1,158 acres of property in a gift that was described by Taron as worth “hundreds of millions of dollars.” Six-hundred acres of the total donation would house the university campus. The other acreage would also initially be owned by the university and developed for housing and commercial purposes. The specific plan calls for nearly 4,387 residential units to be built and 22 acres to be devoted to commercial uses, with funding from the development paying for construction and operation of the university. On the university side, 357 acres of the 600 acres would be set aside for the school, 60 acres would be used for faculty housing and the rest would be open space. The planning panel’s 6-0 recommendation will go to a Board of Supervisors meeting scheduled for Nov. 4 to consider the regional university package of agreements, plans and zoning changes. The board approval could lead to litigation. Attorney Bill Coffer of Davis, representing Placer Citizens Against Gridlock, and Terry Davis, representing the Sierra Club, both told the commission that the proposal doesn’t pass several legal tests. Davis said that the regional university would be built far away from already established transportation and public utility infrastructure in a flawed “leapfrog” approach to development. Coffer said that the only access for many years to the campus would be by car, adding to pollution levels and traffic congestion. “It’s going to perpetuate auto use in the area,” Coffer said. “It wouldn’t even pass the laugh test,” Davis said. Julie Hanson, regional university project manager, said after the hearing that the parcel has been targeted for development for many years. "This property is adjacent to the City of Roseville and existing infrastructure. In addition, this is an area that Placer County identified in 1994 as a logical place for future development,” she said. “Regional planners also agreed in the ground-breaking Sacramento Area Council of Governments "Blueprint" plan for growth that this was an appropriate area for future development." The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.