What should have been a simple process has turned into a years-long, complicated nightmare for the Howe family. Please attend the Placerville City Council meeting at 549 Main Street, Placerville, on March 28, 2017 at 6:00 pm to show your support.
On April 30, 2015, Wilbur Howe and his sister, Marilyn McCarthy, received a notice from the City of Placerville to correct a violation of a City code due to a complaint submitted by past City employee Steve Calfee.
The Howe Family felt that they had no other choice than to submit an application for a permit to allow their employees to park on their adjacent property.
At the November 3, 2015 Planning Commission meeting, after 2 previous hearings, the Commission conceptually approved Conditions of Approval that waived paving, landscaping, and lighting on the Howe’s private property. Planning staff asked to return on November 17, 2015, with project findings and conditions, consistent with the Commission’s discussion, for approval of the project.
After this approval, Planning Commissioner Michael Frenn met with Wilbur Howe on the property and realized a sign was needed to prevent the public from parking on the property. Commissioner Frenn also found that the bollards were extremely expensive and desired to give the Howe Family another option.
At the November 17, 2015 Planning Commission meeting, Commissioner Michael Frenn asked if he could have the Commission reconsider items #4 and #5 (the bollards and sign). He was told they would need to re-open the hearing for the public and Commission to discuss, which was scheduled to December 15, 2015.
Here are the Staff Report and Conditions of Approval for the December 15, 2015 meeting: 12-15-15 Agenda Report
At the December 15, 2015 Planning Commission meeting, the project went sideways. The Planning Commission denied the permit based on an insufficient application following Peter Wolfe’s motion. (The application had been deemed complete by staff on July 6, 2015.)
After many more meetings, the request was reconsidered by the Commission and on September 20, 2016, Conditions were approved which required paving, striping, and a landscaping maintenance agreement.
On September 30, 2016, the Howe Family appealed the Planning Commission’s decision to the City Council.
At the March 14, 2017 City Council meeting, erroneous information was shared to the City Councilmembers and is excerpted here:
The Howe Family is asking the City to restore the Conditions of Approval that were conceptually approved by the Planning Commission on November 3, 2015, with changes to Condition #4 to allow for a decorative wall instead of bollards, and Condition #5 to allow for returning the larger, more visible, Private Parking sign.
Here is a drawing that was suggested for the decorative wall instead of bollards in Condition #4:
On Tuesday, January 17 at 6:00 pm, the Hampton Inn and Suites project will be before the Placerville Planning Commission. The site is located at 3001 Jacquier Road (Smith Flat Road area).
This project is oversized for the site therefore requiring numerous variances in order to move forward. If the City would require the applicants to comply with the City’s design standards, such as: required parking, required loading berth (at least one), required signage (especially since this is in a scenic corridor), height limit (allowing 55 feet instead of the 40 foot max. requirement), and street frontage orientation, then the project would be more complementary to the City of Placerville and surrounding neighborhood.
It is discouraging to see the City of Placerville allow this project with so many concessions given to the applicant. The worst part is the unattractive massive corporate urban design. As designed this building will be a huge detriment to the Community and particularly to the Highway 50 scenic corridor. If the building was reduced to 3 stories and turned 180 degrees to face the main road, then the project would be able to comply with many of the other design standards.
The City’s actions to ‘give away the farm’ for no benefit makes no sense. They are incentivizing an outside corporation by returning $6,000,000 of the required Transient Oriented Tax which creates a disadvantage to competing local businesses. The $6,000,000 is $2.5 million over the allowed $3.5 million dollar City of Placerville Hotel Incentive Program.
This project is so wrong on so many levels. It is very obvious that the City IS giving special favors to Hampton for no justifiable purpose. Contrary to Staff’s statement, the oversized box design with faux material attached to the outside does not compliment the overall building mass. The structure is typical to any standard hotel in anywhere USA. This does not generate a feeling of desired architecture that one would expect in Placerville, especially in the quaint town site of Smith Flat.
Rather than sticking to their typical boiler plate design, the City should have required this corporation to design a structure that would complement the site and not allowed an oversized boiler plate design shoved onto a non-typical sized lot.
The following are the comments submitted by Friends of Historic Hangtown to the City of Placerville’s Planning Commission:
The City has defined Smith Flat Road as the Eastern “gateway” to Placerville in which projects should adhere to the community design concept and be an example that defines Placerville’s image. This project is a corporate boiler plate box, which is not conducive to what the Community of Placerville envisions as their defining image. Therefore the Smith Flat Road Standards are not being adhered to if this project is allowed.
Staff’s statement that “the aesthetics is not generally considered an environmental issue” dismisses the fact that Aesthetics is an element of CEQA. Aesthetics is also a critical element to retaining the culture of Placerville and also an important element in regards to the Highway 50 scenic corridor. The applicants should be required to meet some type of design standard that is in keeping with the Victorian or western theme of Placerville.
It appears that new mitigation needs to be looked at in regards to the wetlands. Relocating the wetlands to an off-site location does not mitigate the impact that the project has created. On-site mitigations should be required to protect the wetlands, with a reduction of size this may be possible.
We disagree with the following findings from the City. Our comments are in red.
The City contends that this request is consistent with General Plan Land Use Element Goal C that states,
“To protect and provide for the expansion of Placerville’s commercial services sector to meet the needs of both Placerville area residents and visitors”; and, Policy 9 that states,
“The City’s planning for commercial areas shall be guided by the following principals: a) Contribute to the City’s objective to become a balanced community; We do not see how this project contributes to create a balanced community. The project is not cohesive or compatible to its surroundings. Its massive, corporate urban design conflicts with the gold rush architecture of this neighborhood. Therefore, this project should not be approved based on contributing to become a balanced community.
b) Have a positive economic impact on the community; The City’s push for new hotels is focused on bringing in more Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) for economic benefit. How is this project going to bring an economic benefit when the City is giving back over half of the estimated TOT to the developer? The developer estimates that it will generate over $11,000,000 of TOT in 20 years, yet the City has agreed to return $6,000,000 as an incentive within the first 20 years. $2,500,000 of the incentive is beyond the scope of the Placerville Hotel Incentive Program. What guarantee does the City have that the developer will stay after its incentive is reached? Existing local hotels have just recently recovered from the last recession, so this hotel will seriously impact the small motels ability to compete. As is common with corporate projects, few, if any, local contractors will get to work on this project. Also, the second to fourth floors will be built out of the area and then shipped to the site. There is no fiscal analysis for the project to determine its net economic impact on the City over time. Therefore, this project should not be approved based on economic benefit.
c) Provide for adequate parking and vehicular access; This is unlikely since the applicant has requested a variance to the required number of parking spaces. The City is proposing to grant Hilton’s request to only provide 0.9 parking spaces per unit, rather than follow the City’s standard of one parking space per unit. Using the City’s standards, the project is short at least 24 parking spaces. Additionally, Hilton has requested a variance to avoid the 2 required loading berths, which are needed because “deliveries will not be significantly smaller in size and nature to those deliveries required by a full service restaurant.” The future is unknown and not restricted in regards to truck trips to this site. The requirement for truck loading is a basic safety issue for better traffic circulation necessary for a project of this size. Therefore, this project should not be approved based on having adequate parking and vehicular access.
and, d) Be designed and landscaped in a manner sensitive to Placerville’s character”, in that the project has been designed in a foothill theme, has adequate parking and vehicle access, and will have a positive impact on the community through sales and transient occupancy taxes. A corporate, urban design is not sensitive to Placerville’s gold rush character. As mentioned before, there is not adequate parking and the project deviates from the City’s standard for streetfront orientation. Because the size of the structure is more than allowed by City standards, there is not enough room to comply with the City landscape standards. As stated above, there is no fiscal analysis for the project to determine its net economic impact on the City over time. Therefore, this project should not be approved based on the statements within principle d.
The City contends, “Due to existing site constraints of topography there are unique physical characteristics specific to the project site, therefore, the granting of the variance requests does not constitute a special privilege not enjoyed by others in the vicinity or in the same zone as the project.” The topography for this project is NOT any different than much of the topography within the City of Placerville. Therefore, this variance DOES constitute a special privilege.
Per the Staff Report, “Lastly, staff believes that, when completed, this project will have a significant positive impact, catering to tourist needs and long-term economic health of the community and region.” Without a Financial Analysis, staff’s belief is purely speculation.
Lastly, this project is not required to perform its own environmental review document, such as an EIR (Environmental Impact Report). Instead, the City is allowing the project to move forward using old environmental documents from previous proposed hotel projects. This is concerning because this project is similar to formerly proposed projects, but its size and footprint are different. Additionally, the former environmental documents were challenged in court and the project was allowed to move forward only after reaching a settlement agreement, which is not included in the Staff Report.
We ask that the Planning Commission require the applicant to adhere to the City of Placerville’s design standards and reduce the overall mass and height of the project to what is required by code in order to comply with the parking, landscape, signage, and orientation standards. The City should also require at least one loading berth in order to maintain safe accessibility for delivery trucks.
El Dorado County courts have called the stocky white courthouse in downtown Placerville home for over 100 years – and for nearly half that time residents have argued about whether the historic courthouse has outlived its usefulness.
The debate riled the Gold Rush-era town in the 1960s and resulted in a makeover that covered the neoclassic courthouse’s interior with dark wood paneling and swapped chandeliers for florescent lights.
Today, plans call for a new courthouse to be built in a parking lot behind the El Dorado County jail, in a wooded area on the western edge of the community of 10,000 in the Sierra Nevada foothills approximately 45 miles east of Sacramento.
The planned location is near a number of other county office buildings along Highway 50 but about 2 miles from the city’s central business district, where the old courthouse presides over a curving Main Street lined with buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Placerville courthouse plan is part of a larger statewide effort to replace historic but outdated courthouses with modern facilities, often in less-central locations.
Placer and Yolo counties have new courthouses that replaced grand old downtown structures. And Sacramento County is moving toward building a new $500 million, 500,000-square-foot justice center in the old railyard north of downtown.
Some say a new home for the El Dorado Superior Court is long overdue.
The old courthouse is cramped, with only four courtrooms, and lacks modern security features. Prisoners walk through public areas in shackles. Deputies lock inmates in the jury-deliberation room because there are no holding cells. Public defenders have to interview clients in restrooms for privacy.
“It is a building that has outlived its usefulness as a courthouse,” said Suzanne Kingsbury, presiding judge of the El Dorado Superior Court.
Others think the move is misguided. The courthouse has anchored downtown Placerville since it was built in 1912, and it reliably infuses Main Street with dozens of jurors, lawyers and court employees who keep downtown restaurants and shops busy on weekdays. Tourists generally don’t show up until the weekends.
Critics of the move contend there is ample room to build a modern courthouse annex with a much-needed parking garage, while rehabilitating the historic courthouse.
Kirk Smith, a downtown property owner whose family has been in the Placerville area since the 1840s, has led the fight against moving the court.
“It has to do with pride. That’s our heritage. It’s part of our DNA,” Smith said. “People come to Placerville because of what’s old, not what’s new.”
In 1965, grand jurors recommended replacing the old courthouse because of seismic instability, he said. That caused a public outcry and resulted in the courthouse being renovated.
This time, the plan to move the court hasn’t caused such a stir, but there are those who think it’s a bad idea and would siphon dollars that keep downtown’s restaurants and shops afloat.
Main Street business owners say a significant portion of their sales, up to 30 percent in some cases, come from customers who work in the courthouse or residents who are called for jury duty. During the court’s long lunch break, they eat, shop and stroll Main Street, often coming back on the weekend with friends, they said.
Albert Fausel co-owns Placerville Hardware, billed as the oldest operating hardware store west of the Mississipi and one of the longest-operating businesses in California. He and other merchants said they felt excluded from the debate over the courthouse’s fate by public officials intent on a new building despite public sentiment.
Fausel said an addition to the existing courthouse would have been a better option.
“They’re spending so much money (to build a new courthouse),” he said. “I think they could spend the money down here and help the merchants. I don’t know why they’re taking it away from us.”
Preservationists have sued the state Judicial Council to stop the project, saying a legally mandated environmental analysis overlooked the potential for urban blight if the courthouse moves.
“The (environmental impact report) failed to adequately disclose, analyze and/or mitigate the Project’s economic impacts to the businesses in historic Placerville on Main Street that will lead to urban decay,” says the complaint by the Placerville Historic Preservation League.
The case, brought under the California Environmental Quality Act, is pending in San Francisco Superior Court and could be decided soon. Courthouse construction, which was scheduled to start next year, is on hold pending the outcome.
In a legal brief filed by the Judicial Council and El Dorado County, lawyers argued that there is no real evidence that the court’s relocation would lead to blight. Plans call for the 1912 courthouse to be left standing and reused in a way that will enhance the local economy and draw people downtown, the attorneys said.
At the same time, construction of a new 88,000-square-foot courthouse will improve the county’s criminal justice system by providing modern facilities with holding cells, jury-assembly rooms and ample security, the lawyers said. Its location next to the jail will make bringing defendants to court much easier and save money, the lawyers wrote.
Placerville City Councilwoman Wendy Thomas said she understands the concerns of business owners but is certain the ornate white courthouse needs replacing.
“She’s a shining jewel in the center of our city and she’s a mess inside,” Thomas said.
The court’s move should be looked at as an opportunity to reuse the old building in a way that would draw visitors to Placerville on weekdays and at night, Thomas said. She suggested it might be turned into a boutique hotel with a restaurant or a performing arts center.
One expert suggested the move might not have the long-term benefits that advocates envision, however.
Ray McDevitt, a retired lawyer who wrote the book “Courthouses of California: An Illustrated History,” said courthouses such as Placerville’s were traditionally the center of small towns, and not just for symbolic reasons.
“It was an economically sensible decision,” McDevitt said. Lawyers and others using the courthouse had offices downtown, as they still do. Hotels and other prominent public and commercial buildings often shared a square with the courthouse. Centralizing functions made sense.
These days counties around the state are building new justice facilities on the outskirts of towns, including in Auburn, Roseville and San Andreas, the county seat of Calaveras County.
New suburban courthouses might seem logical in the short run by providing ample space and easy access to the county jail, McDevitt said, but he doesn’t think they’ll last 100 years.
“Land at the fringe of a community is cheaper and you can have a huge parking lot,” said McDevitt, who practiced local government law in San Francisco for decades.
The trend, however, is oddly retrogressive, like building shopping centers in the 1950s and 1960s on the edges of cities, he said. The current return to city centers and away from car-based culture is more economically and environmentally feasible going forward, he said.
“The flight to the suburbs is sort of over, I think, as an urban design formula,” McDevitt said. “A lot of places are spending time and energy to revitalize the cores of their communities. So to take a functioning governmental institution and remove it from a place where it’s visible, understandable and accessible seems going against the grain.”
“I think that in another 30 years,” he said, “the decision to remove courthouses to remote locations will be looked at as errors.”
Over the last few years, the Placerville City Council has required, at great expense to property owners, the removal of Pole Signs throughout Placerville. The reasoning is that Pole Signs are not compatible with a Historic District. So now why is it that City Councilwoman Wendy Thomas’ pole sign at the old Carrow’s building is being allowed to stay standing, especially within an area of town being considered for a Historic Preservation District and along a Scenic Corridor?
The City Council has approved the Streetscape Plan which will eliminate several parking spots in Downtown Placerville. Councilwoman Thomas has been a major promoter of this plan. Added to this, the proposed new agreement for Thomas’ tenant to lease parking from the City will take away many spaces from public parking. The City is constantly complaining that we need more parking, yet they seem complacent in losing these many spaces for the benefit of whom?
Councilwoman Thomas’ tenant is proposing to pay $430 a month so Thomas can keep her pole sign on City property AND privatize 8 public parking spaces. Why is Councilwoman Thomas getting special consideration to keep the pole sign and to privatize public parking spaces?
Show up at the Placerville City Council meeting on Tuesday, November 10, after 6:30pm to speak up and ask why Wendy’s tenant is getting such a good deal on this lease.
Here is the agenda item:
DISCUSSION/ACTION ITEMS 12.1 Adopt a Resolution Approving a Lease Agreement with David’s Ale Works, Inc., a California Corporation for 3,358 Square Feet of Commercial Parking and Signage Area Adjacent to the Business Located at 209 Main Street (Mr. Morris) Resolution No. _____ Recommendation by the City Manager that the City Council adopt a Resolution approving a lease agreement with David’s Ale Works, Inc., a California Corporation for 3,358 square feet of commercial parking and signage area adjacent to the business located at 209 Main Street.
PLACERVILLE – “Placerville, a Unique Historical Past Forging into a Golden Future.”
Placerville’s letterhead describes the historic Gold Rush city that way. But retaining a reverence for the city’s legendary past while accommodating the demands of an expressway future has proven to be an uncomfortable process, no more so than in the decades-long effort to upgrade Placerville’s courthouse facilities. A recently-filed lawsuit by the Placerville Historic Preservation League has complicated the process once again…