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Folsom leaders look forward to growth area

South of Highway 50 project does have detractors
By: Laura Newell Telegraph staff writer
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With recent growth including a state-of-the-art performing arts center to a new mall at Palladio Lifestyle Center, the city of Folsom is looking toward the future. Some residents are questioning whether it is a good time to expand. One project being discussed is the Folsom South of Highway 50 project, also known as the sphere of influence (SOI) project. “The critical part of this is the residents of Folsom need to be the deciding factor of what will be there and have the controlling factor of this project,” said Mayor Jeff Starsky. “This project will be so beneficial to the city for the long term continued success of our city. The residents have already spoken and told us what needs to be there. We have incorporated their plan and their desire and that’s what we’ll move forward on.” The master plans for the project began 10 years ago, said David Miller, community development director. “The city is laid out in master plans,” Miller said. “The south is the only place it can expand.” According to the specific plan, the project is a comprehensively planned community that proposed new development patterns based on the principals of “smart growth” and transit oriented development. The project includes a mixture of residential, commercial and open space. Miller said there is an estimated 27,000 population expected in the area. The project will be built out in full over the next 20 to 30 years. The project will include five elementary schools, one middle school, one high school and potentially one private school. Every school plans to have a park near it. “It’s a model I think for the area,” Miller said. The visioning process, said Miller, is to keep the green land open in about one third of the project. Also, light rail and bus transits will have dedicated transit lanes in the project. Miller said the city has dedicated 50 percent of the capital cost, $26 million, out of property tax to build bus areas. He said they have also dedicated regional transit work to be with the finished project. “The biggest costs in the project are the freeway improvements and the water line,” Miller said. “Freeway improvements because of the cost of mitigation. If you produce traffic you have to take care of it, causing freeway overpass projects. Water lines are expensive because of the many miles of transmission line that has to be constructed.” Miller said the city will first put together and finish the environmental process of what land use goes where, then after it is approved by the city, the funding issues will be worked through. “We have to put together a creative way to fund the project,” Miller said. “Every city has to plan for the future.” A town center area is also planned, Miller said. “It will be a mixed use walkable commercial and residential environment,” Miller said. “We want people to be able to get around without having to drive everywhere.” Miller said the city has received more than 2,000 comments regarding the project. After completing the final project document in March, Miller said it will go through the appropriate approvals before heading into construction. He said after approval by the planning commission, it will go before the city council for approval in May. Then the next step is the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) in late summer, Miller said. “If annexed, the spring of 2012 we will see groundbreaking for the infrastructure,” Miller said. The land is held by private parties, he said. “We are doing a lot of financial work,” Miller said. “Because the economy is so down, the wild card is what do you use for future costs.” With all the growth, project plan opinions have been up and down. “This has been under a lot of scrutiny and has had to evolve,” said Miller. “It’s a project of a lot of partnerships and collaborations. This is a pretty complete package for future development. When you drive into Folsom, it has an identity. So we’ve tried to preserve that same feel for the SOI.” Robert Giacometti, 52, is a business owner and Folsom resident for more than 20 years. “I’m concerned on how the project is going to affect our quality of life,” said Giacometti. “I’m concerned on how it will contribute to the deteriorating air quality, how it will add to traffic congestion and that the developmental impacts won’t be paid for by the developers. Therefore, residents north of Highway 50 will end up subsidizing the project.” Lindsey Woodward, a five-year resident, based much of his recent Folsom City Council campaign on advocating against the project. He said the area targeted for development should be left alone. “It is an area that needs to be conserved to keep it green,” he said. “The water impact on the region is major. I think that if it is built, it’s going to take a lot away from the charm of Folsom and old town. If you added that (new) area of development, you can have businesses such as Wal-Mart pick up and leave across Highway 50, which will leave another big empty spot in Folsom.” He said the focus should be on filling current businesses vacancies in town. “I think you need to focus on the empty spots now. The current community needs to be supported before looking into developing another area,” Woodward said. “We need to prevent (the south of 50 development) before it becomes unstoppable.” Still, plans seem to be moving forward. “This project is so far out in terms of timing,” Starsky said. “But what we are working to ensure is that when it is developed, both the desires of land owners and the future development (needs) of the city are met.”