Time is now to plan for 725 Ravine homes

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Adding more than 700 homes to Auburn is big news. And that’s just what the Baltimore Ravine project proposes. It has been the topic of conversation this year for city staff and residents, especially for those who live near the site targeted for development. There are, of course, concerns. How will impending heavy traffic on already busy roads be mitigated? Will our financially challenged schools be compensated? How will this affect response times from police and fire? Those are some of the most asked questions whenever the project has been discussed in public forums. While some say they want to preserve Auburn’s charm by keeping the city of about 12,800’s population right where it is, that’s not a realistic outlook. Like it or not, Auburn needs to grow to remain economically healthy. The City Council and city staff need to seize the opportunity to put in smart growth measures now to offset problems in the future. That starts with taking residents’ concerns about traffic seriously. The development site is currently situated with Auburn Folsom Road to its east and Interstate 80 to the north and northwest. It’s about two miles from Downtown Auburn. Currently, it has one main access point located off Auburn Folsom Road through Herdal Drive and a secondary access point on Werner Road. Perry Ranch Road will serve as an emergency access road. Residents question why there are not additional entrances and exits and have suggested others. They’ve also asked for a traffic study to be conducted during peak hours when school is starting and ending. City staff has said they’ve looked into Maidu Drive, May Perry Drive, Pacific Street and High Street as other potential ways in and out, but said it already has the right-of-way on Herdal Drive. To use other streets would require obtaining property owner permission and/or cutting down trees to create other access points. Has city staff approached any of the property owners yet? If so, what have those discussions been like? If not, it seems worthwhile to talk to residents and determine just how much of their property would be used and what it would take to open up other access points. Residents might be OK with parting with a few trees if it means less congestion at busy intersections. It also seems wise to take a look at the back up that occurs every morning and afternoon when kids and parents are coming and going from school. There are benefits to inviting more people into the community. Our city could strongly benefit from extra property tax revenue. The Auburn Recreation District is being proactive and asking for the board to approve an increase in recreation fees. The increase would be levied on new homes and collect about $5,500 from each single-family dwelling. This could be a good thing in terms of providing more fields and facilities for residents to use. City staff should look ahead and put in a similar funding mechanism to offset impacts to our schools, fire and police departments, and infrastructure. Depending on how many families move in, overcrowding in schools could easily become an issue. Will all of those students filter into Skyridge? Or will some be bused to other elementary schools that already have fewer teachers and larger class sizes because of state budget cuts? There is also only one middle school and one high school in Auburn city limits. In February, District Superintendent Dave Horsey told staff that budget cuts were forcing their student-teacher ratio from 20-to-1 in ninth grade English and math classes to 34-to-1 and even 38-to-1 for other subjects. The Sierra Club has thrown its support behind the project, which is a first for developer Stephen Des Jardins. The environmental organization says it likes that most of the homes will be clustered around a commercial area of shops and restaurants within walking distance, which they say means less driving to those services and less environmental impact from vehicles. They also highlight affordable housing that will be included in the residential community. “Demand for new homes in the foothills will no doubt return, and when it does we need to have responsible ways of dealing with it,” said Terry Davis, a volunteer and coordinator with the club. “Otherwise, that demand will be met by the usual suburban sprawl, which destroys the character of the foothills.” In a recent Journal report, Des Jardins said city staff should just consider the first phase of the project right now. While the first phase might be the immediate future of the project, the City Council and staff need to look at the big picture and seriously consider residents’ concerns. Now is the time to prepare for the entire project. It’s time to weigh all of the potential impacts, fine-tune mitigation for major concerns such as traffic, schools and public safety, and devise a clear plan as to how to proceed. Planning can be time-consuming, but the results will payoff for current and future residents.