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North Auburn's 858-unit Timberline development targeted for court fight

Aug. 13 courtroom date scheduled as two sides consider options on talking points
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - The controversial Timberline mixed-use project in North Auburn is heading toward a court showdown in August. Some North Auburn residents are fighting Placer County approval of the environmental documentation required by the state. Attorneys for Placer County and Timberline developer Western Care Construction of Rocklin are digging in to fight the court action And both sides are moving toward an Aug. 13 trial date in Placer County Superior Court, with no judge assigned yet to hear the case. Davis attorney John Gabrielli, representing the group against Timberline, filed the petitioner?s opening trial brief this past week and is preparing to go to trial on whether Western Care?s financial ability to complete the project should have been studied before project approvals. The Gabrielli trial brief, filed on behalf of the Ad-hoc Committee to Save Our North Auburn Quality of Life, questions Western Care?s financial stability in the face of the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, Western Care owner Martin Harmon?s recent legal losses through his interest in Horizon West Healthcare and sale of key assets by Harmon?s family. ?This makes it more important to ask ?Do you have one step in the grave or one step on the banana peel??? Gabrielli said. Karin Schwab, Placer County deputy county counsel, said Thursday that the county will be defending the September 2011 approval of California Environmental Act documentation by the Board of Supervisors confident that it will withstand any legal challenges. The court challenge revolves around whether Western Care Construction could denude the 119-acre Timberline site of vegetation and then fail to have the financial wherewithal to continue with the project, including bankrolling work on establishing a wetland preserve to the site on Auburn Recreation District land. Spokesmen for Western Care have previously said that the project was extensively vetted over a three-year process and any questions were addressed in draft and final environmental impact reports. The report was unanimously approved by the North Auburn Municipal Advisory Council, the county Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. Dale Smith, a community activist whose Sunshine Way home sits near the vacant Timberline site off Bell Road, said there is still room for a compromise on conditions that nearby residents feel are questionable. Schwab said no meetings between the two sides are scheduled. ?The legal suit is so strong that it in all likelihood will cause them to come back and negotiate,? Smith said. The ad hoc group would be seeking a drop in the scale of buildings that are three stories to two stories. The group also wants Western Care to save more of the trees targeted for removal, he said. Sacramento?s Tina Thomas, a nationally known land-use attorney representing Western Care in the case, reiterated that the state environmental approvals were complete and conclusive. ?CEQA requires an agency to adopt all feasible mitigation measures and we believe all have been adopted,? Thomas said. The proposed development includes a continuing care retirement community and commercial office complex on land across Bell Road from the county?s Government Center. A total of 780 of the 858 units in the development are to be for seniors. There will be 78 residential lofts with no age restrictions on the top floors of the office and commercial complex.