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West Slope growth could change quality of life at basin

Rick Chandler

Welcome to El Dorado County. Pardon our dust!

If developers and pro-growthers have their way, the county’s new slogan will soon be “Under Construction.” That noise you will be hearing in the next millennium will be hammers and tractors — and that will be followed by car horns on major area roadways.

As the county grows — experts predict the population of El Dorado County will double by 2015 — the pressure will be on to provide housing, schools and services to new residents. And that is the low-growthers’ worst nightmare.



There are 12 major residential and commercial development projects prepared to go before the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors and the County Planning Commission before January, 1999. And we’re talking big stuff here — shopping centers, access interchanges and housing developments not seen in these parts since, well, ever.

As county supervisors and developers prepare to go to the table and discuss the implementation of Measure Y, there is already a rumbling in the hills. It’s bulldozers, and they’re coming this way.



These projects are not yet written in stone — or concrete. But if approved, how will all this new development effect U.S. Highway 50, which is the lifeline of tourism to South Lake Tahoe?

“It used to be that you could drive from the (San Francisco) Bay Area to Tahoe, and have clear sailing from Sacramento all the way there,” said former county supervisor Bill Center, who now owns a business in Lotus. “It’s not that way anymore. There’s already gridlock. What are things going to be like ten years from now? It’s the essential question we face when we look at our future quality of life in the Sierras.”

Said County Supervisor Ray Nutting, whose second district is right in the pending construction combat zone: “This is one of the most volatile times in El Dorado County history. We’re going through a lot of changes, and our citizens are not real excited about growth and traffic. How we handle this is very important.”

Here are the eight biggest projects pending in the county:

* Missouri Flat. Actually a series of six major projects, this area just north of U.S. Highway 50 and east of Missouri Flat Road in Placerville would feature more than 100 acres of commercial development, the centerpiece being the 15.8-acre El Dorado Villages Shopping Center, which would include 120,500 square feet of retail space and 534 parking spaces. Also on tap in the Missouri Flat area would be another commercial shopping center — Sundance Plaza — which would take up 67 acres; a Wal-Mart outlet; a Lucky’s supermarket expansion; a Raley’s supermarket and a large storage facility. The Wal-Mart, which would eventually employee 245 people, would take up 19.8 acres and include a McDonald’s restaurant. Also included in the plan would be two phases of road improvements, including an overpass expansion and other major roadway facelifts, the first phase of which would not be complete until 2005. Total projected cost for the road improvements alone: $55,403,500.

* Valley View Project. This area in the Salmon Falls Road area of El Dorado Hills south of U.S. Highway 50 is earmarked for 2,037 acres of commercial and residential development, with 2,840 homes to be built on 1,279 acres. The project would also include 10.9 acres of commercial/office development, two school sites and 87 acres of new roadways.

* Pilot Hill Ranch. Possibly the most controversial of all, this proposed residential development is the only pending major project in a strictly rural area, just north of Coloma on Highway 49.

“Any time you are talking about a major development in a rural area, you have to be able to match it with infrastructure services,” Nutting said. “Many of the residents in that area are concerned with traffic impacts and related issues. Some welcome it, though. It depends who you talk to.”

And that’s the essence of the issue. Some county officials, such as Fifth District Supervisor John Upton, see county growth and development as a plus … if it’s done right. That’s why Upton was opposed to Measure Y, the traffic impact initiative which voters approved on Nov. 3. With the passage of Measure Y, developers must account for any traffic impact fees their projects would cause.

“We have a lot of (development) plans in this county over the next three or four years, and Measure Y threatens that,” Upton said. “Now with every project, there’s going to be a sea of litigation. It’s important to keep (revenues) flowing. But Measure Y will eventually end up starving the economy. And that includes South Lake Tahoe.”

Others see it differently. First District Supervisor Sam Bradley thinks developers are moving too rapidly as it is.

“If we give them a chance, developers will let out roads go down the tubes,” he said. “They’ve done it in the past. We have to go slowly on development, to make sure revenues are accounted for.”

Nutting, too, sees all the pending development as too much, too soon.

“This is too much pressure on the planning department. It’s inappropriate to try and rush all this through in such a short period of time,” he said. “Our citizens demand quality growth, not this rushed growth.”

And so, El Dorado County residents find themselves in a bind. Fundamentally conservative, the county as a whole has traditionally called for less government intrusion, but at the same time wants government to curtail growth.

“It’s the challenge of our time,” said Nutting, whose term of office doesn’t expire until 2001. “The future will be interesting.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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