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Annexation plan draws criticism

By: Laura Newell Telegraph staff writer
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While city leaders are moving forward with a plan to annex more than 3,000 acres south of Highway 50, some residents are voicing concerns and frustration. On May 18, the Folsom Planning Commission cleared a series of hurdles and red tape to pave the way for Folsom’s eventual annexation of the area south of Highway 50, known as the city’s sphere of influence. They approved the environmental impact report, as well as specific plans and pre-zoning issues. Ardie Zahedani, principal with RCH Group, represents the seven active landowners south of Highway 50. He said the project has been a long process and he’s happy to see it coming to fruition. “This has been the community vision and all landowners have actively engaged and were willing participants in this process,” Zahedani said. “It’s exciting to reach this final milestone after 12 years of engagement and collaboration with the community and the city.” The project includes a mixture of residential, commercial and open space. David Miller, community development director, said there is an estimated 27,000 population expected in the next 20 to 30 years, when the project is expected to be fully “built out.” The project is a comprehensively planned community featuring new development patterns based on the principles of “smart growth” and transit-oriented development, according to officials. Many Folsom and El Dorado County residents came to the meeting to speak against the approval of the project. “I felt the approval was too sudden and not well thought out,” said Debbie Meier, of Folsom. “I don’t believe the board reviewed the document pertaining to this plan. I don’t feel it is being thoroughly explained before being approved. They are just being stubborn because it’s something that they’ve been working on for 10 years.” Meier said her family has been here for more than100 years and the area in question is the last of their scenery that hasn’t been developed. “I’m wondering if it’s going to be fairly heard at LAFCo (Local Agency Formation Commission),” Meier said. “I’m not against annexing it so it’s in our control.” She has been concerned throughout the entire process. “We’ve been bait-and-switched on this Measure W thing,” Meier said. “It’s true we should have control (of the area South of Highway 50), but as a greenbelt (and not for development). … Destroying that property is not appropriate. ... It’s a designated scenic route of Highway 50.” She said there should be no rush to annex and develop property given the economy. “We’re not under that kind of pressure to expand right now like we were in 2001,” Meier said. “We have vacancies here in Folsom we can’t fill.” Susan Whitman-Seidenzahl, of Folsom, is the owner of My Flower Shop in Orangevale and a previous Pacific Grove city councilwoman. She served on the Pacific Grove council for eight years in the mid 1980s and said she is very well versed in land-use issues. “I was really shocked that more people weren’t there to speak out last night,” Whitman-Seidenzahl said. “I imagine they will be more inclined to speak at the upcoming city council public hearing.” She moved to Folsom in January 2006. “When I looked at some of the information in the EIR and staff report, they have covered all their bases, but some of the decisions are not great,” Whitman-Seidenzahl said. “I am shocked at the amount of vacant unused space in Folsom. Some of the newer commercial space was overdeveloped and it can’t even be completed because of the bad economy. I don’t think it’s appropriate to ignore the current economic downturn. You can’t imagine the change in conditions since this project started.” She said they are trying to build a “miniature town of Folsom” in a time when the demand is just not there. “Where is the demand? How can they justify building a town jumping out of nowhere?” she asked. Whitman-Seidenzahl said she was also concerned with the process of approval. She said the reason commissions have public hearings is to have a full discussion on how they arrived to their decision after hearing public comment. She said the council did not fully explain their reasoning for approval after hearing multiple residents speak out against the project. “I’m sympathetic to the developers, but I think this is maximizing the use of that land in an urban way which is surrounded by a rural setting,” Whitman-Seidenzahl said. “I understand Folsom wants annexation on this land so they can have control of it, and it’s appropriate. But, the development they proposed is overkill and the economy doesn’t change that fast. The point is there is no demand.” Paige Cox, of Folsom, thinks it’s time to renegotiate contracts to stay fiscally responsible. “Even with an understanding of smart growth, and the monies which would be brought to the City of Folsom and Folsom Cordova Unified School District through developer fees and state categorical building funds; it’s very unsettling that both the City and District would be promising new schools, parks, business development and 30 percent open space in our SOI given our current fiscal state,” Cox said. ”Our beautiful new mall sits vacant, an empty field lies where Catlin North Park was promised a decade ago, open spaces are being maintained by volunteers and our children’s schools are in a dire state. Master plans and deals with developers were made during prosperous times. Our elected officials should demonstrate fiscal responsibility by renegotiating contracts while maintaining promises to our current residents, especially our youth.” Folsom resident Bob Fish also spoke out against the project. “People voted yes for this project because there wasn’t any choice,” Fish said. “You never gave the citizens a voice, and it’s a shame.” Jennifer Brown, of Folsom, said is the city will soon face a downturn with continual fast growth. “If we continue to grow too quickly, we will decline as a city and Folsom won’t be a destination to move to,” Brown said. “We moved here because it’s so nice to drive up and see the land. I’m really sad and concerned about this project.” She said she is also concerned over the loss of habitats in the land after construction and losing value on her home. Still, commissioners moved forward with the approval and the project will go before Folsom City Council at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 14, for the council public hearing. If approved it will go before the Local Agency Formation Commission. If approved by LAFCo, they could break ground in spring 2012, Miller said. “I support this 100 percent,” said Tom Scott, planning commissioner. “This is a moving process that is always changing. We don’t just unplug a process. We don’t have that luxury. … I view this as a moving process.” For more information on SOI and to read the annexation current documents, visit folsom.ca.us/home_nav/sphere/default.asp.