20-year plan means projects take time | TheUnion.com

20-year plan means projects take time

Grass Valley businessmen Matt Weaver and David DuPell know from experience that business moves faster than government.

So they have agreed to pay for traffic improvements in the city so they can move ahead with their business expansions, and let government pay them back part or all of the cost, at no interest.

That’s the short version.

Their encounters with the labyrinthine world of city planning shine some light on the achingly complex process that local governments go through to pay for growth.

The process can be boiled down to this:

Officials plan for growth, what they need to build to deal with growth, and how much those growth-induced projects cost. Through arcane calculations, they figure out how to distribute those costs among different kinds of development projects. They also spread those costs over 20 years.

That means the city or the county doesn’t actually get all the money it needs to build improvements to deal with growth until the 20th year.

“We’re always playing catch-up,” Grass Valley Mayor Gerard Tassone said.

But people keep moving to Nevada County. Grass Valley keeps growing. Traffic gets heavier at certain intersections. People need the traffic improvement projects now.

Grass Valley’s strict standards for traffic congestion start kicking in. Those standards start stopping some big construction projects from going in. City rules say the developers of those projects must wait until the traffic congestion is fixed.

Weaver and DuPell did not want to wait.

Matt Weaver’s project brought the future sooner than planners had expected.

Weaver operates Weaver Auto & Truck Sales on East Main Street, and is building a new center on Idaho-Maryland Road.

The expanded dealership will put many more vehicles into the already congested intersection at Idaho-Maryland and East Main. To help deal with the traffic, the city required Weaver to install a signal at the intersection of Idaho-Maryland and the Golden Center Freeway northbound offramp.

A signal at the offramp had been included in the city’s 1999 General Plan to deal future growth. But was not included in the city’s mitigation fee program, so no money could be collected to pay for it, according to several city officials who were interviewed about the project.

According to a draft letter of agreement dated this month, Weaver will put up $394,000 to build a three-way traffic light at the intersection.

But because the project already had been envisioned as a city capital improvement, the city will pay nearly half the cost, repaying him in seven equal installments over 6-1/2 years. City Council is expected to approve the deal soon.

In addition, city staff are working to update the mitigation fee program so they can collect fees to pay for the signal. The city will use that money to repay Weaver.

The expansion of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital also will put a lot of traffic into the Idaho-Maryland/East Main intersection. The city also required the hospital to put the signal there as a requirement of their expansion.

Weaver took the lead in the project because he was farther along. In a private agreement, he and the hospital are sharing the engineering costs and will share that part of the reimbursement, Weaver said.

Together, in the end, they will pay for about 20 percent of the project’s overall cost. The amount represents what they would have paid in higher traffic mitigation fees had the city been collecting money for the signal.

The California Department of Transportation will repay another portion, because it is considered a “part-owner” of intersections near its freeways.

No one will pay Weaver interest on the money being repaid.

David DuPell wanted to move his Big 1 Appliance & TV from Idaho-Maryland Road to a new, 20,000-square-foot building on Sutton Way. He also wanted to open a Dollar Store there.

The intersection of Sutton Way and Brunswick Road already was considered to be congested at rush hour under Grass Valley’s traffic rules.

In 2002, the Nevada County Transportation Commission pin-pointed that intersection as one of several that are important to the whole region, but congested and in need of upgrading. The commission planned to make improvements there, started collecting mitigation fees to pay for the improvements in 2003 and scheduled the fix for 2005.

City engineers found that DuPell’s new store would bring so many more people into the intersection that he could not move ahead until changes were done.

If DuPell wanted to move forward with his new building, he would have to fix the intersection first, and the city would pay him back.

DuPell agreed.

He paid for the traffic and engineering studies needed for the redesign as a condition of getting his building permit. His engineers followed guidelines that had been set out in the county’s traffic study, which had been reviewed by Caltrans.

In December 2003, the city Planning Commission approved DuPell’s project. Commissioners granted him an exception to city rules that the intersection be fixed before construction could begin. Instead, the intersection had to be fixed before he occupied the building.

“I showed the city we would have no traffic impact until the building was built,” DuPell explained.

During this time, Caltrans had raised some concerns about the redesign of the intersection, but never said the essentials of the design caused them problems. However, when DuPell’s traffic engineers brought forward their final plans, Caltrans nixed the whole thing, city officials said.

DuPell’s engineers went back to the drawing board.

In January 2005 as construction of the new store neared completion, the process for redesigning the intersection remained unsettled.

Nevertheless the city, the county Transportation Commission and DuPell reached an agreement similar to the one with Matt Weaver.

DuPell agreed to front the cost of the engineering and construction of changes to the intersection ” now an estimated $211,000. The county Transportation Commission agreed to pay him back out of their regional mitigation fee money, over a period of no more than two years, depending on the final cost of the project.

In addition, DuPell had paid a regional traffic mitigation fee of $32,275 at the time he received his building permit. The three sides agreed that this fee would be considered DuPell’s fair share of the growth-related improvements needed at the intersection, according to the January 2005 letter of agreement.

In March 2005, the city Planning Commission granted DuPell’s request to be allowed into his building before the intersection had been fixed.

“Changes in design and additional reviews … were beyond the control of the applicant,” planning director Tom Last wrote in a March 15, 2005, staff report on the matter.

Big 1 Appliance moved into its new location in May 2005, three and a half years after the process started, DuPell said.

Now it is March 2006 and Caltrans recently has accepted the new redesign of the intersection. The project will reconfigure turn lanes on Sutton Way and modify signal arms. It is in the process of being sent out for bids.

“The city was gracious” to change its rules and let him move in before the intersection was fixed, DuPell said. “If they hadn’t, it would have bankrupted me. You can’t have a building and pay a mortgage on it and not have a business in it.”

Work on the intersection is expected to start this year and take six to eight months.

To contact staff writer Trina Kleist, e-mail trinak@theunion.com or call 477-4231.

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