West slope on hold; Developers sit idle
Bob Brown has been on tenterhooks for nearly 10 years, and here’s his problem: Brown is a developer and nothing seems to be developing in El Dorado County.
“We want to move forward, and I’m confident that someday we will,” said Brown, project director for Roebbelen Land Company in Sacramento, the outfit in charge of building the Sundance Plaza commercial development near Placerville. Sundance is a part of the larger Missouri Flat Area Master Circulation Plan – a group of six development projects near the intersection of Missouri Flat Road and U.S. Highway 50. “But somewhere, I know, there’s an end to the rainbow.”
But that time is nowhere on the horizon, it seems.
Nine years ago, Roebbelen was at the controls of a developer’s dream: a large portion of land near a major highway (U.S. Highway 50), zoned for commercial use. The area seemed to be ready for the large retail shopping outlets that would be built there, and county government seemed receptive to the commercial growth.
But instead of new Target Surplus, Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney outlets, there has been nothing but a series of delays. The biggest blow to the developers came in November, when El Dorado County voters approved Measure Y – the initiative which mandates that developers fully account for all costs connected to their projects.
The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors approved the Missouri Flat Area Master Circulation Plan one month later – in December – seemingly giving the go-ahead for Sundance Plaza and the other projects in the area. Missouri Flat would eventually include a new Raley’s, Wal-Mart and Lucky’s retail outlets, plus a Card Lock Facility and two shopping malls – Sundance Plaza and the smaller Village Properties.
Sundance Plaza is to be built on approximately 70 acres, and would include Target Surplus and J.C. Penney outlets, a pair of as-yet-unnamed home improvement and office supply outlets, and a number of smaller businesses and shops.
“Mervyn’s (clothing outlet) had been a player at one time, but they pulled out a couple of years ago,” Brown said. “We have a good relationship with our prospective tenants, but delays cause uncertainty. Corporate structures change. No one can wait around forever.”
It has seemed like forever to Brown and other developers, who are now waiting for the county to untangle legal issues before construction can begin. In January a Sacramento judge ruled that the county’s General Plan is invalid, and last month a pair of county taxpayer organizations brought suit to stop the Missouri Flat projects – claiming that the board of supervisors had no right to approve them in the first place.
A judge will rule on that lawsuit in May.
“It’s all been exceedingly frustrating,” said Mark Perlberger, development manager for Halbear Enterprises in Sacramento, which is in charge of constructing the El Dorado Villages shopping mall. That project, on 12 acres near the Missouri Flat interchange, would include a grocery store, drug store, gas station and auto parts outlet.
“We’re the small fry in the whole Missouri Flat group, and thus the least controversial,” Perlberger said. “But we also suffer the most. We’re not a big property owner with deep pockets, who can afford to wait this thing out forever. (The delays) are burdensome on us. It’s unfair.”
A small property owner has the worst end of the stick in this legal development mess, according to Perlberger.
“Village Properties is too small to have a significant impact on political decisions,” he said. “And once we’ve invested in a property, it hurts us more if we can’t build on it.”
Those on the construction side of the issue, such as Brown, are a bit miffed that the Measure Y proponents portrayed their projects as a large animal that would gobble up county tax dollars.
“On the contrary, our projects would be bringing in tax revenue to the county,” Brown said. “Without that sales tax revenue coming in, the county would have no source to make road repairs.”
Said Perlberger: “It’s just not in the best interest of the county to decide everything by initiative.”
John Taylor, a Sacramento attorney who represents Wal-Mart in its attempt to build an outlet in Missouri Flat, said that the large retail chain is committed to staying the course.
“We’ve been very receptive to working out any issues with county government,” Taylor said. “But in the meantime, there are substantial costs that continue to mount (with Missouri Flat in limbo). Delays hurt us, too.
“Using the word ‘development’ seems wrong at this point,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be an development happening.”
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