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Nevada County panel hears Rincon del Rio concerns, praise

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA – Views on Rincon del Rio’s plusses and minuses were in sharp focus at a public hearing Thursday in Nevada City. The South Nevada County development proposal calls for changing zoning on a 210-acre parcel to switch allowable uses from single-family dwellings to a clustered seniors housing project on 40 acres that would allow 345 individual residences. The Rincon del Rio property borders Placer County and is just south of Lake of the Pines. The proposal was both praised and panned at a scoping session last spring and that division between project proponents and opponents continued at Thursday’s hearing before the Nevada County Planning Commission on its draft environmental impact report. Billie Prestel, a nearby Rincon Way resident to the Rincon del Rio acreage, drew applause when she suggested that the county should limit the development to its current zoning. “It will change the rural atmosphere forever,” Prestel said. “We choose to live in an unincorporated area for a reason.” But ex-Alta Sierra resident Margo Donovan said she felt Rincon del Rio would make an impact in people’s decisions to stay in the area as they grew older. “Why should a handful of local people be in a position of stopping a project that would help an aging population?” Donovan asked. The five-member planning panel made no decision. That will come after staff provides answers to concerns and questions voiced at the hearing or in written form. Deadline for submissions is March 20. Charles Durrett, the Nevada City architect on the project, outlined an environmentally ambitious program he said Rincon del Rio plans to use to eliminate significant and unavoidable impacts from cumulative greenhouse gas emissions it would contribute to. Durrett said vehicle emissions will be reduced to 55 percent of levels partly by encouraging pedestrian activity and more greenhouse concerns would be eliminated by banning gas leaf blowers and using solar panels. “We can easily get this down to below state standards,” Durrett said. Other speakers, however, expressed concerns they said the environmental documentation had yet to address the impact of Rincon del Rio on adjacent roads. One large contingent of speakers – residents of the Lake of the Pines Ranchos subdivision adjacent to the Rincon del Rio property – said that plans to allow an unlocked gate for access onto one of their privately maintained roads was unwelcome and unsafe. Mark Mills said that the Lake of the Pines Ranchos road out to Combie Road would not be acceptable for evacuation from Rincon del Rio in the event of a fire. Opening the narrow road would be “creating a major disaster,” he said. “How many people will have to die for you to find this fire road is unacceptable,” Mills said.