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Community input key to growth

As western Nevada County grapples with a dearth of affordable housing and the prospect of four large development proposals around Grass Valley, the county’s eastern outpost of Truckee has been there and done that.

And that experience may be something that residents, elected officials and developers can draw upon as Grass Valley ponders the four “special development areas” that could add as many as 3,000 homes to western Nevada County.

On Feb. 5, the Truckee Town Council approved the 725-unit Gray’s Crossing project, located on about 750 acres straddling Highway 89 just north of Interstate 80. Developed by East West Partners, Gray’s Crossing features an 18-hole golf course and is the largest development in Truckee, according to town councilman and unopposed Nevada County supervisor candidate Ted Owens.



While it was the Town Council that ultimately approved the project, there were a number of meetings between the community, East West Partners and city officials to hash out details, the least of which was affordable housing. The process, Owens said, was one of give-and-take over about four years.

“When we began the process with them, I don’t think anyone could have imagined we would have gotten the range of affordable housing we did,” Owens said.




What started out as a project of about 500 single-family homes and 100 affordable units in 2000 now includes 408 home lots and 225 affordably priced rentals and for-sale units.

“What is important in this particular case is the developer had a vision and didn’t just draw it up and rush it,” Owens said. “They went out of their way to involve the public.”

As far as affordable housing is concerned, that process produced 89 single-family cottages, 115 attached town homes and duplexes, 21 studio lofts and 92 apartment units. To ensure that the affordable units go toward helping solve Truckee’s lack of housing options, the development agreement between East West and the town stipulates a “locals first” buyers program. East West will also contribute to a first-time home buyer fund created by the town of Truckee that will go toward down payments.

“It was a give-and-take process,” said Roger Lessman, managing partner of East West Partners. “What made it work for us, certainly, were the 400 home sites and the golf course. Had we not had the golf course it would not have worked.”

The four special development areas proposed for Grass Valley – Loma Rica Ranch, Kenny Ranch, North Star and SouthHill Village – all include proposals for affordable and “workforce” housing. But only one project, North Star, proposes a golf course. It also is asking for the most housing, with at least 2,000 units.

To offer realistically affordable housing, a developer, such as East West, often uses the premium prices they get from golf course lots to subsidize lower-priced homes.

Without a golf course, another option to keep building costs low is to increase density. But high-density projects in the wrong area can raise the ire of neighbors.

It’s at that point, said Grass Valley City Councilman Steve Enos, that the relationship between community and developer is usually hard to repair.

“One of the things you can do as a developer is lower the controversy,” Enos said. “They need to think about making a living rather than making a killing sometimes.”

Enos echoed Owens’ concern that the public be involved in the planning process. And when it comes to the quality of life in western Nevada County and the uniqueness of Grass Valley, residents should be protective, Enos said.

“I think what we need to be doing is valuing ourselves more. I want the public to be engaged,” he said. “We lose the character of our community one project at a time. The basic question is, ‘Whose choice should it be?'”

The city of Grass Valley is currently studying the potential economic impacts of the four large proposals. When that is completed in April, the City Council will have its work cut out.

The four developers “have ever-increasing expectations, and ‘no’ to them becomes even more implausible,” Enos said. “But it’s our town, and it should be our choice.”

Owens, too, said communities can be demanding in their views. Western Nevada County, he said, “can be like Truckee and should be like Truckee.”


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