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New deal for Whitney Ranch?

City mulls eliminating community center, fire station funding to focus on interchange construction
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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Rocklin city planners want a new freeway on and off ramp on Highway 65 at Whitney Ranch Parkway and they’re willing to give developers a break to get it done sooner rather than later. News of the proposed plan is getting mixed reactions from homeowners in the area.

Right now, an amended development agreement is in the works between the city of Rocklin and Whitney Ranch developers that could affect funding for a new fire station, eliminate a proposed community center and turn part of a community park into a housing development.

According to a report presented to the City Council last month, the city’s ultimate goal is the “restructure of priorities supporting the Whitney Ranch Interchange project.”

City planners point to the depressed housing market, a global recession and unprecedented local economic pressures as a reason to “concentrate resources on elements that prove to be mutually beneficial to the city and Whitney Ranch.”

For the city, the agreement is about so much more than stimulating a depressed housing market. An estimated 4,000 new jobs could be created from potential commercial developers eyeing 200 acres in Whitney Ranch who are put off by the lack of freeway access, according to the city.

 “Revenues derived by this development will support government services such as public safety and other public services perpetually,” the city staff report concludes.

On the bargaining table from the existing agreement is the developers’ obligation to pay an $800,000 fire station fee, $500,000 for design of a Whitney Ranch Parkway Interchange and $2.5 million for completion of the interchange after construction, as well as $3 million toward an estimated $15 million community center at Whitney Ranch Community Park.

Now the city is willing to defer or eliminate those obligations to get $4 million in 2014 and 2015 toward construction of the interchange, enhanced bike trails and extending West Oaks Boulevard to Whitney Ranch, among other priorities.

Whitney Ranch resident Natalie Cooper said the proposed changes are short-sighted.

“I have lived in a community where they’ve made those mistakes of foregoing money they could have collected from builders and then that money never came back around,” she said. “It is important for that fire station to get built.”

The city report indicated the fire department’s “current service demands do not meet the criteria to warrant construction of a fourth station at this time.”

Cooper is dismayed by what she called an empty promise to build a community center at Whitney Ranch Community Park that is now on the chopping block.

Developer and Newland Communities LLC Vice President Peter Bridges defends the city’s plan.

“We’re in general agreement with where the city is headed,” Bridges said.

 Bridges said Whitney homeowners are fortunate to have other amenities in the community and shouldn’t miss the proposed community building to be constructed in 2017.

“The city has existing recreation facilities that have surplus capacity and questioned whether or not they needed the expense of additional construction and additional operational expense with another facility,” Bridges said. “The homeowners have access to the Ranch House with banquet facilities and a couple of pools.”

Nearby resident Tim Mills said he’s willing to delay the community center if that means a freeway exit for Whitney Ranch and potential jobs.

“It’s almost like it’s an island right now,” he said. “An (interchange) is definitely a need. Unless commerce is paying for things, it is just going to be a tax burden for everyone already here.”

Mills wants the community center delayed, but not completely eliminated. Right now the city has a request from a developer to turn phase two of Whitney Ranch Community Park, where the proposed community building would be built, into a proposed single-family housing development.

“I wouldn’t do away with it,” Mills said. “They have a unique thing started here.”

Bridges said indications show the housing market is at the bottom right now.

“We’re starting to see some improving conditions and some recovery,” he said. “We’ll look at ways to increase efficiencies and to continue to build out the community. Long-term, that’s our goal.”

City Manager Rick Horst declined to talk about the agreement until one can be penned and presented to the Planning Commission and City Council later this year. At that time, the public will have the opportunity to have their voices heard.

“Development agreements are just that, agreements, that can be amended and changed as agreed upon by both parties when deemed to be in the best interest of the parties to do so,” Horst said.

The agreement has been amended four times since its inception in 2002. An agreement is expected to be finalized by the end of the year.

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Good to know

Whitney Ranch developer obligations

• $800,000 fire station fee

• $3 million for freeway interchange

• $3 million toward community center

City proposal

• $4 million in 2014 and 2015 toward construction of freeway interchange, enhanced bike trails and West Oaks Boulevard extended to Whitney Ranch Parkway

~ Source: City of Rocklin