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Much-debated South Nevada County seniors project passes key test

Rincon del Rio moves on from Planning Commission to Board of Supervisors
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The much-debated Rincon del Rio seniors housing project, located 5 miles from North Auburn, won backing from enough Nevada County planning commissioners to send it on to the Board of Supervisors.

The decision about the development, which falls within Nevada County borders, came Thursday on a 3-2 vote at the Rood Center in Nevada County. The vote followed strident objections from opponents who say plans don’t fit the rural area Rincon del Rio is being proposed for – and equally strident support from proponents who say the seniors development is just what the county needs.

For supporters, the 3-2 vote to recommend acceptance of environmental documentation for Rincon del Rio required by the state, a general plan amendment creating a new continuing care retirement community zoning designation, and a rezone from current residential zoning allowances was a win for jobs and quality senior housing.

For opponents, the vote was a defeat of an attempt to move or roll back the scale of, a project that they fear would bring too many cars and too many people to a rural residential area with low traffic flows.

The project now goes on to the Board of Supervisors at an as-yet-undetermined future meeting for a final decision. That decision could be appealed in court if opponents feel it doesn’t comply with California Environmental Quality Act provisions.

The land is located at the end of Rincon Way, off Highway 49, near the southern edge of Nevada County, and skirting the Placer County line. It’s about five miles from North Auburn and 15 miles from Grass Valley.

Louis Rosenburg told the meeting, which started at 1:30 p.m. and ended shortly after 7 p.m., that job opportunities were a key reason he supports the project. He said that he was fighting on a month-to-month basis to keep his home out of foreclosure, like many other Nevada County residents.

“And on a spiritual level, there is nothing a community can do more than provide this kind of end-of-life housing,” Rosenburg said. “This is a sterling example for a community.”

Opponents, organized under the group name Keep Nevada County Rural, dug in on several points related to their contention that the site was wrong for such a large development and it didn’t fit into a general plan that emphasizes retaining the county’s rural nature.

Karen Abbott, a nearby resident to the project property, said that there was still a chance to sway the Board of Supervisors.

“Those are votes that count and we still have valid issues,” Abbott said. “We don’t want to stop the project but want to condense it somewhat so it has less impact.”

Abbott said that there is still room for adjustments to downsize what currently is envisioned to be construction of 345 housing units on the 215-acre property.

Under a draft development agreement developed by property owner Young Enterprises and county staff, the number of residents will be limited to 415.

The new agreement also provides some guarantees that a trail could be extended through the property near the banks of the Bear River. Planning Commission members had requested that the developer attempt to find a way to provide a trail easement on the land.

Young Enterprises, a Nevada County business owned by developer Carol Young, would cap the resident count at 415, while ultimately developing the property over several phases. In each stage, Young has agreed to not start until occupancy has reached 70 percent on phases already completed.

Young outlined the business’s vision on the property – to provide an active lifestyle for seniors but not all medical needs.

“Some people are saying with straight faces that seniors need to be near a hospital,” Young said. “We don’t want to live next to a hospital. We want space to play and garden. We need nature and contemplation. We want beauty.”

Auburn’s Margaret Mason said that proponents might change their mind if they knew that the development was not going to have a skilled nursing unit to assist seniors as their years advance.

Mason and other speakers contended that the allowance of a new Continuing Care Retirement Facility zone should have a separate hearing process that reflects potential countywide ramifications.

Several county staff members, including Planning Director Brian Foss told the hearing that other properties had a potential to also be included in the new zone if they went through the same procedures as Rincon del Rio. But only two of 28 considered had the ability to be hooked up to treated water and sewer – a mandatory requirement under current development policies, he said.

Art Rangel of Rodeo Flat Road said that the county needs to consider the “bigger picture” as it looks at the impact of Rincon del Rio. Rangel said that the new zoning had the capacity to increase both commercial and residential density in Nevada County well beyond what is envisioned in the current general plan.

Kurt Lorenz, a former Nevada County planning commissioner, said that the proposal should be sent back to staff with an admonition to separate out any general plan changes for individual considerations.

Peter Ramsay, of Nevada City, said he was a former city planner. Rincon del Rio fits in with new directions in planning for seniors and said it compares to a successful British model that preserves open space while clustering houses in villages, he said.

“This development is a small village and has the benefit of preserving a large amount of open space,” Ramsay said. “To me this represents the trend of the future – a significant and positive development.”