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North Auburn Timberline project goes to court

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The battle pitting a group of nearby North Auburn residents against Placer County and the owner of the proposed 858-unit Timberline development is now moving into the courtroom. Contending that Timberline property owner Western Care Construction of Rocklin should financially guarantee habitat-conservation expenditures, a group of property owners near the 119-acre Timberline Continuing Care Retirement Community site filed initial papers in Placer County Superior Court this week initiating legal action. But a Placer County attorney said environmental documentation was completed properly and approvals are ready to be defended successfully in court. The group – called the Ad-hoc Committee to Save Our North Auburn Quality of Life – is asking the court to put aside environmental clearances adopted Aug. 9 by the Placer County Board of Supervisors. The Timberline property is located on Bell Road at Richardson Drive. Representing opponents, Davis attorney John Gabrielli said Thursday that the group is hopeful an agreement can be reached early in the process to avoid moving the case forward. But a settlement should provide some relief on a project that has some serious flaws, he said. “My clients are not completely interested in wiping out the project but are interested in toning down plans,” Gabrielli said. Placer County was served with the petition for writ of mandamus on Wednesday. Chief Deputy County Counsel Scott Finley said the next step will be to take the writ to the Board of Supervisors for direction. The board has consistently ordered the County Counsel’s Office to defend decisions in similar cases, he said. Having just received the document, Finley declined to go into specifics of the case. But he did say that the county is ready to defend it. “The county did a thorough and complete environmental review and the Board of Supervisors approved it after a very lengthy process, and a full, public hearing,” Finley said. The legal offensive that started this week revolves around whether Western Care Construction should be able to clear oak woodland in the project’s first phase. Gabrielli said the current economic downturn could leave the site denuded of foliage. But Western Care could potentially go bankrupt and not have to go forward with work on establishing a wetland preserve adjacent to the site on Auburn Recreation District land, he said. Gabrielli said that while case law hasn’t been set on the issue, the ad hoc committee considers a bond and proof of the developer’s financial ability to perform the work as two potential solutions. John Margowski, representing Western Care, said Thursday that the suit is unmerited and opponents are manipulating facts. Western Care has to pay upfront for mitigation measures when it cuts oak trees on the property and the county has more than 200 conditions already on the site, Margowski said. As well, Western Care has to comply with conditions set by the recreation district, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Water Quality Control Board on the mitigation park site, he said. The project was extensively vetted over a three-year-process and any questions were addressed in draft and final environmental impact reports, Margowski said. The report was approved unanimously by the North Auburn Municipal Advisory Council, the county Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, he added. “If there’s something we missed, we’re willing to listen,” Margowski said.