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Gold Hill Gardens decision postponed

Proposal raises larger questions for Placer County
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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After hearing passionate pleas on both sides, the Placer County Planning Commission decided Thursday not to make a decision yet on a community center proposed for rural Newcastle that could host weddings and events for up to 200 guests year-round. Gold Hill Gardens, located south of the intersection of Wise Road and Gold Hill Road, is requesting the approval of a minor use permit to allow for the operation of a guest ranch, including five cottages and a bed and breakfast in the residence currently on the property, a 5,250 square foot event center and a plant nursery. Garden tours are also proposed to be given on the property. Dozens of neighbors and residents from the surrounding area attended the meeting. Several of them spoke out in opposition to the project during public comment, citing noise, traffic, zoning and compatibility with the area as their major concerns. Others spoke in favor of the project, particularly for the potential it has to bring people into the area and acquaint them with Placer County’s agricultural attractions. Members of the planning commission said after hearing the views expressed, they believed it would be beneficial for staff to work with the property owners, Mike and Cindy Carson, to somehow reduce the impact of it on neighbors before the planning commission makes its final decision. “The project needs a haircut,” said Jeffrey Moss, planning commissioner, based on what he heard expressed. “The ambitious nature of the project as a whole is a little more than they are comfortable with in their neighborhood.” As it is currently proposed, the buildings will be phased in over three stages. During the first phase events will be seasonal, occurring April 15 through Oct. 15. By the third phase, there is no proposed limit to the number of days the property could be in use, one issue that Planning Commissioner Ken Denio expressed concerns over. Mike Carson said based on traffic studies conducted by the county and an environmental noise study conducted by Bollard Acoustical Consultants, the project does not have any major barriers to moving forward. Geological and biological assessments were also conducted and came back clear, the county staff report stated. Under the proposal, music would have to be turned off by 10 p.m. The event center is being proposed at a location toward the center of the lot, where the topography and other structures will block some of the noise, he added. A 90-stall parking lot is proposed for the property and guests will also be encouraged to carpool. Carson, who has lived on the property for 15 years, said he has held meetings to hear the concerns of neighbors and tried to address all of them in the proposal. “We are not trying to cut any corners,” Carson said. “We are good neighbors. We want to do what is right. We were told by many of them that the only project they would support is no project.” He added that he some of his neighbors have called the project a night club or a strip club, of which it is neither. Mark Fowler, chairman for the Rural Lincoln Municipal Advisory Committee, said he and the other members were opposed to the project. “It’s the quality of life. You live in the country and you like it quiet,” Fowler said. Marilyn Jasper, of the Sierra Club, said the organization wanted to see an Environmental Impact Review completed at the site. She said because of two similar projects that are also currently pending approval in the county, at Wise Villa Winery in Lincoln and Rock Hill Winery in Loomis, Gold Hill Gardens would have a cumulative impact. Other residents brought up concerns of the impact on salmon in nearby waterways; while others said access for emergency and fire crews is not adequate to accommodate events and traffic of the scope being proposed. Carson said he modeled the concept for Gold Hill Gardens on the Flower Farm Inn and Events Center in Loomis. However, neighbors said the Flower Farm is located on a major thoroughfare, Auburn-Folsom Road, and poses less of a traffic danger than the roads near Gold Hill Road. County staff did not report any increased threat of collisions or accidents with pedestrians or cyclists, according to the report. Carol Rubin said she had collected 140 signatures in opposition to the project as proposed and presented some documents to the commission to review. She said she believes the project would essentially be a commercial use on farmlands, adding that the decision could impact future decisions on how farmlands can be used. “We need to think very carefully before we allow suburban uses to encroach deeply into Placer County Farmlands,” Rubin said. “The Gold Hill minor use permit represents a fork in the road.” Currently, wineries in Placer County are limited to holding six special events per year. The project is zoned to have a community center on it, which according to county regulations can hold weddings or dances. Some neighbors said the event center being proposed by Carson is not really a community center and would be slipping through on a loophole because people from outside of Placer County will be attracted to it. “It seems a concern to all of these citizens that there has been a shoehorning of this project,” said Teresa Chaney, who lives across from the Gold Hill Gardens property. “They are fitting a square peg into a round loophole.” Ken Kemper, who was representing Carson, said county regulations clearly spell out the event center does meet the requirements for a community center and is an appropriate use of the land. John Stanley, of Auburn, said he is in support of Gold Hill Gardens. Stanley said he moved from the Bay Area, but never knew how beautiful Placer County was until he stopped for lunch one day. He said he believes the facility could attract more people to the area. “What’s happening at Gold Hill is a unique opportunity for people who have not experienced the beauty of this area,” Stanley said. “This is a free opportunity for the county to invite people to this area.” Carol Owens said she and her husband have made their home in Placer County for decades and worked in agriculture. “To do this is just awful because we have such a good community,” Owens said as she was moved nearly to tears. “This is just going to be chaos.” Joann Neft, of Auburn, said the project and others like it raise some large-scale questions for the county that need to be re-evaluated. “I think we should take a 40,000 mile look at Placer County as a whole,” Neft said. “I think perhaps our ordinances haven’t been updated enough. I think we are a little wishy-washy. In order for us to provide the services we want to provide, we need to update our general plan as it relates to agro tourism.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.