Church on the chopping block?

City fights to save buildings from state's mandated sale
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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For the first time since the state abolished Rocklin’s Redevelopment Agency, Old St. Mary’s Chapel on historic Front Street may be on the chopping block. The 1883 building was purchased, in part, with funds from the city’s former redevelopment agency and the state now wants the city to sell the building. The historic building was moved from its original location in 2005 and remodeled to be used for public events. Since RDA funds were involved in the remodel, the state doesn’t want the building, but wants the cash. According to the city, the church sits on land leased from the railroad and can’t be touched. “I think they would be hard pressed to take that building,” City Manager Rick Horst said. “They are not going to make any money off of it. Plus the public outcry would be so loud.” A provision in the new state law governing the RDA transition allows the city to hold on to properties designated for public use. In addition to the chapel, the city has included the Rocklin History Museum and new library building on Rocklin Road on the list to protect from the state’s mandated sale. According to the law, disposal of the properties are to be done “expeditiously and in a manner aimed at maximizing value.” If approved by the Oversight Board, the city could hire a real estate broker later this month. Properties expected to put up for sale are the vacant lots on the west side of Pacific Street between Oak and Pine Streets, known as the old G.I. Joe property, the museum parking lot at 3895 Rocklin Road and two lots known as the Barakat property on Pacific Street and the southwest corner of Pacific Street and Rocklin Road. Proceeds from the sales will ultimately go to the state even though the city owes more than $45 million in RDA bond debt, which is being paid off over the next three decades. Rocklin Chief Financial Officer Kim Sarkovich explained the state is not going to accelerate the repayment of the bonds with the property sale windfall. After the agency’s debts have been paid, the RDA’s former tax increment will go to local schools. “There is a waterfall affect,” Sarkovich said. “As the property taxes come in every year that’s what’s used first to help pay off the debt. As the years go by, more and more money goes to the schools.” Horst said he’s given up on trying to save the Big Gun Quarry, which was named to the National Register of Historic Places last month. “It was never bought for its historical value; it was bought for its frontage (on Pacific Street),” Horst said during the Aug. 6 Oversight Board meeting. “The city bought it to make money. The state says, ‘if you’re going to make money off of it, then that’s what we want.” Unfortunately, the city’s records indicate the land was never intended for public use, which prevents the city trying to protect it from sale. “When you read the minutes and all the dialogue that went into buying this property, it was for resale and redevelopment. To make the case that it serves a public purpose we’re shot before we even get out of the gates because our own records say we didn’t buy it to serve a public purpose. We bought it for redevelopment and resale,” Horst explained. The city purchased the land for $1 million in December of 2010. It’s unclear what the quarry property is worth in the current market. Rocklin Historical Society President Gene Johnson said the 7.2 acres quarry site should be subdivided. “My feeling is that the quarry property should be split in a manner that would leave that quarry and structures on one property designated for public use and the remaining commercially valuable portion of the property, fronting on Pacific Street, designated to be sold,” Johnson said. Horst said that idea was hammered out after the sale and is a non-starter. “It’s way too late,” Horst said. “We can have that argument with them, yes. But if you look at the pure guidelines as they are laid out you can’t make the case.” Oversight Board member Jerry Mitchell said the city won’t have to deal with issues surrounding the quarry when it’s sold. “It will relieve us of a burden of having to maintain all that. Have the (state) entertain all the input from this pretty active historical society about what ought to be done about it,” Mitchell said. Rocklin Heritage Committee member Carol Ellis, who submitted the nomination papers to the National Register of Historic Places, wants the city council to step up and enact a historic preservation ordinance to further protect the century old quarry site. “The property was registered in hopes that whoever purchases it will see the historic value and will abide by the guidelines associated with such properties,” Ellis said. The save list is expected to be voted on during the Oversight Board meeting on Aug. 27. Even then, Horst admits there is no guarantee the state Department of Finance will approve the property transfers to the city.