Roughly 35 people turned out for Tuesday morning’s meeting of Grass Valley’s Development Review Committee after a controversy developed over plans to build a 215,250-square-foot shopping center near the Dorsey Drive Interchange construction project.
The interchange was originally pitched as a way of improving vehicular access to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Sierra College from the freeway. Some have suggested that the real purpose behind building the freeway exit was to facilitate access to this shopping center.
“I think the timing of this has people feeling a bit duped,” Jim Coffin said during the public comment section of the meeting.
“I supported the Dorsey off-ramp for what I understood (to be) access to the hospital,” Coffin added. “Now this project looks like it was already in the works.”
Roughly a dozen other speakers focused on concerns that small businesses in the downtown area could be adversely affected by bringing in big-box stores. There was also pointed criticism of the applicant’s plan to build locations for fast-food restaurants.
Only one member of the public spoke in favor of the project.
Members of the design review committee made an effort to dispel notions that the process in play lacked transparency.
“As far as people feeling duped about Dorsey Drive, I don’t like to hear that. That shouldn’t have been the case,” said committee member and senior civil engineer Trisha Tillotson.
“Dorsey Drive is intended to improve access to our hospital, our college and other businesses.
“There are several vacant properties in the area,” Tillotson added. “Those could have developed before Dorsey; they can be developed now.”
Tillotson also said that regardless of the timing, the applicant will have to pay impact fees to help fund intersection improvements like the Dorsey Drive Interchange.
Russell Jeter, the property owner and project applicant, said the shopping center will be used to bring in retailers that this community has asked for. In a news release, Jeter cited the city of Grass Valley’s “Community Retail Survey and Focus Group Study.”
“We listened, and the potential uses at the Dorsey center are being guided by these community desires,” Jeter wrote.
The study, published in June 2013, estimates that more than $200 million in “retail leakage” leaves western Nevada County every year as local consumers drive down the hill to shop.
Using a sample group of more than 600 respondents, the study identifies numerous big-box retailers that are believed to be in demand, including Target, Walmart, Costco and Sam’s Club. The study also identified a strong demand for a Trader Joe’s and Olive Garden, as well as smaller retailers like Ross, Kohls, Marshall’s and Famous Footwear.
Jeter also pointed out that the proposed shopping center’s location means that this project may not contribute to sprawl, although that perspective was contested during public comment.
As the project is still in the conceptual phase, no official action was taken by the design review committee. All comments from committee members and the public are intended as feedback for the applicant to consider before proceeding with the proposal.
Tuesday’s meeting was originally scheduled to take place in City Hall’s Hullender Room but had to be moved to the council chambers in order to accommodate the size of the crowd.
To contact staff writer Dave Brooksher, call 530-477-4230 or send emails to DBrooksher@theunion.com.