Supes deny Miner’s Ridge appeal

Litigation may follow; Redevelopment Agency holds key to unlocking a deal
By: Jon Brines Journal Correspondent
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Fifteen acres of Bill Prior’s land in Bowman is landlocked from any road. He said a fence keeps him from accessing the property down an easement from Silver Bend Way behind the Raley’s Shopping Center. The Placer County Redevelopment Agency owns the adjacent 6-acre parcel that accesses the public street. The agency got it in a foreclosure several years ago. Now Prior said they’re not being good neighbors. “We can’t get to our property,” Prior said. “It’s unusual for a county agency to lock us off. I hope they give us a key.” At Tuesday’s Placer County Board of Supervisors meeting, the board unanimously voted to deny Prior’s appeal and allow the proposed 64-unit low-income apartment complex, known as Miner’s Ridge Apartments, to move forward. Developer USA Properties is working with the agency to help construct the complex using state grants and federal tax credits. Prior and co-owner Mario Ferrante wanted the county to acknowledge what they call a three-decades old problem of ignoring their easement rights. They also wanted sewer and utilities to reach the edge of the property. The fight, in and out of the Planning Commission, surprised Prior. “They are going to do little as little as possible here but yet they spend millions of dollars on other things,” Prior said. During the discussion with the board, Chairman Kirk Uhler got to the heart of the matter and secured an agreement, on the record, to allow the owners access to the easement with utilities underground. “We would do that for any other developer,” Uhler said during the meeting. After the agreement was made, the appeal became moot and Prior and Ferrante were speechless, reduced to only nodding to the board in acknowledgement of the deal. A third appeal to the project was presented by Dr. Dale Smith, a community activist, who said the county hasn’t addressed toxic soils on the site that could potentially endanger any future residents’ health. Smith stated the project changes breaches a 2002 court settlement agreement between an organized community opponent, called RAID (Residents Against Inconsistent Development), and the county. County officials contend the agreement expired in 2008 and all of the soil concerns would be addressed in the normal development process. The land has had a series of uses that could be questioned including pesticides used when it was a pear orchard in the 1930s, or contaminants from staging of construction of Interstate 80, a Placer County Water Agency pipeline and later uses by PG&E. However, Smith doesn’t trust the county to clean it up properly. “In Placer County, they’re all a bunch of crooks,” Smith said. “I’ve lived here a long time and I know how it works.” He wanted a 45-day continuance to get the soil properly tested since most of the current tests by the county have been inconclusive. “If we could get the toxic soil evaluated, then we could get it cleaned up. That would be good for everyone,” Smith said. Attorney George Phillips, who represents the developer USA Properties, said they’ll do the right thing. “Those tests have not revealed any significant contamination,” Phillips said. “There will be remediation before the project moves forward. The “T”s will be crossed and the “I”s will be doted before the project moves forward.” Smith, who formerly worked with RAID, vowed the group would probably file a lawsuit as soon as they could get organized. Auburn affordable housing landlord George Horan cautioned everyone at the meeting that the economy is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. “The market here is absolutely flooded with affordable housing,” Horan said. “I have a 30 percent vacancy rate. We don’t need this. We need jobs.” With the third development plan in the last 10 years Phillips acknowledged the economy could deep six the project. “There is no guarantee that the project will be built,” Phillips said. That’s a concern felt by Prior and Ferrante, who said the developer is cooperative but it’s the Redevelopment Agency that’s the problem. They literally hold the key to it all. “If they give us our right of way, we’re happy,” Prior said. “If this all falls through, all of these recommendations go down the tubes then basically we start over.” Jim LoBue, deputy director of the Placer County Redevelopment Agency, said the fence went up to prevent illegal dumping and the development of a homeless enclave on the site. But he also admits it went up to contain his neighbors. “We don’t want open access for anyone,” LoBue said. The Redevelopment Agency offered to give them a key but LoBue said they wanted Ferrante and Prior to agree to certain conditions. “We want to do it in such a way that it protects the project,” LoBue said. “We want to limit them and make sure it is not in conflict with what we want to do. They want carte blanche, full rights to an easement that they don’t own.” LoBue is worried they’ll build a road or do construction that will impact the Miner’s Ridge Project. Prior and Ferrante said there are no plans for that and they’ll give the developer and the Redevelopment Agency a year before they consider a lawsuit.   “We’re satisfied today but if the project doesn’t move forward, we’re going to litigate it,” Ferrante. The developer expects to break ground by next summer.