Drainage still key Riverbend Estates issue
The Riverbend Estates developers laid out for the Colusa City Council Tuesday night a polished view of what their 271-home senior community would look like – and even added a new cyber twist.
There would be nice homes, assisted living facilities, parks and community gardens, recreational areas and what Mike Olivas described as an e-Village.
“I’m very excited about this,” Olivas said.
The concept is for those seniors who are not quite ready to retire to have an office setting where they could tele-commute – bringing in entrepreneurs and other business people to the area, and tying the whole idea to Colusa’s education and civic communities.
Cynthia and Jim White endorsed the project, arguing it was the type of development Colusa needs, if only to provide local residents looking for a senior community a place to go without having to move to Yuba City or Chico.
But residents, especially those in the immediate area of the project, were not swayed, and short of running the Sacramento River through a pipe, it does not seem likely at least some will ever believe the drainage issues can be resolved.
Others asked the council to follow the Planning Commission recommendation to require a full environmental impact report, with a heavy emphasis on the river seepage and drainage issues.
The staff believes the mitigated negative declaration as presented to the commission and the council is sufficient.
Jim White is a planning commissioner. He voted against requiring the EIR.
No vote was taken on the controversial 84.7-acre project, identified as the largest subdivision proposal in the history of Colusa.
The meeting was continued to 7 p.m. on April 18 at City Hall.
In addition to the 271 single-family homes, there would be 105 multi-family units as part of the project, located on the east side of town.
Market Street would be extended across Bridge Street and curve back south to East Clay Street, as the course of the Sacramento River borders the back of the proposed subdivision.
The lot sizes range from 5,000 to 6,000 square feet.
The plan has nearly 13 acres of parkland, including a levee parkway and park system, and about 9 acres of open space. Combined it was twice the acreage required for the zoning.
When the issue is taken up again, the council expects to have the report from its engineer on the developers’ latest drainage plan, the absence of which troubled the Planning Commission in making a 3-2 vote for a full EIR, and clearly left the council uneasy about making its own decision Tuesday night.
Drainage, while not the only concern raised by opponents, will most likely determine the fate of the project.
It did not sit well with some of those who attended the meeting when the attorney for the developers told the council that the mere statements by opponents that the city staff is wrong does not rise to the legal standard of “substantial evidence.”
Sigrid Waggener pointed out that the city planning staff has found the drainage element of the proposal, based on the developers’ hydrology studies over the last three years, does mitigate the impact.
That science, she intimated, is substantial evidence.
Waggener, clearly flustered by the debate, also reiterated the procedural and legal requirements outlined by City Manager Jan McClintock on what the council can base its decision, which essentially is if it meets all the elements of the law, city policies and environmental standards, the project must be approved.
Opponents, however, point to their many years of working and living around that levee, as substantial knowledge on which their opinions are based.
Cathy Yerxa, who said her family farms lots of riverfront ground from Princeton to Knights Landing, does not think the developers’ study reflects a truly bad seepage year, and believes more study is necessary.
The developers did change their initial French drain proposal to a pond and piping system they believe is a sound plan to move water out of the area without impacting neighbors.
Seepage and storm water would be moved through a pipe to a pond and held, then pumped through additional piping down one of three county streets - East Oak, East Clay or East Parkhill – to Bridge Street.
Additional piping would take the water from there to the Caltrans canal, and ultimately out to Colusa Industrial Properties where it will be pumped back into the river.
The developers note that not only does it benefit their project and their immediate neighbors, but will also solve a number of other drainage issues, including the flooding on Bridge Street.
The developers proposal is to build out the project in phases, something virtually everyone agrees is necessary given the economic climate.
However, opponents do not think the drainage system can be built out in phases. They argue it needs to be completed in its entirety before any housing phase is constructed.
The developers do not believe that is necessary, but have indicated if that becomes a condition of the project, then that will be done.
Other issues that are part of discussion include schools.
While it is a senior project and not likely to involve school-aged children, Colusa Unified School District
Superintendent Larry Yeghoian told the council student impact and bussing issues need to be addressed in the event it is not a senior-only project.
And that was also a concern of area resident Steve Garofalo. He does not want to see the kind of affordable housing that he believes has already become problematic in the town.
Olivas all but guaranteed that kind of housing will not be part of the project, and was even willing to put it in writing if he can legally do so under the law.
George Graham, plant manager at the neighboring rice milling operation, said the project is a threat to the operation, arguing the plant makes a lot of noise and he wonders if the new residents will accept that or pressure officials for a change.
Traffic, street parking, impacts on existing agriculture, even future FEMA flood maps and the change to the area lifestyle are issues that have been raised about the project.
There is still a question of whether a 150-foot setback from the levee toe will be required. The plan has nine homes that would be inside that perimeter.
A letter from the levee district is expected before the April 18 date.
At one point the meeting erupted in a tense exchange between Dick Armocido and some of the council members when he seemed to suggest that if they were not born in Colusa, or had not gone to local schools, they should not be making these decisions.
Armocido clarified his position on Wednesday.
He said he was trying to point out that there is a history and dynamic to the issue that goes back many, many years and that is important to know.
Armocido admits he lost track of his point when the exchange took place.