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Plans for American Hill subdivision are stalled

Britt Retherford

Development plans for an American Hill Road subdivision are on hold for at least one more month despite promises by the developer to clean up toxic arsenic and lead residues left over from the area’s mining past.

A Nevada City development company, Broad and Boulder Properties, is hoping that the Nevada County Planning Commission will approve its plan to develop American Hill Estates, a 23-acre area nestled where Old Downieville Highway meets American Hill Road. The approval would be contingent upon meeting state requirements for cleaning up the environmental hazards.

“The original vote was in November 1998 for an intent to approve (the plan) 5-0, subject to mitigation measures, and we feel like we are due for an approval,” said Broad and Boulder Properties owner Phil Ruble. Ruble, who also owns Olympic Mortgage and Investment Company, has already spent more than $200,000 in planning for the project and would like the security of an approval from the county.

During last week’s Planning Commission public hearing, however, the decision was stalled until July 8 because of issues brought up by adjoining neighbors and planning commissioners.

Questions were raised about increased traffic on American Hill Road, possibilities of threats to a dwindling water source, and concerns from Nevada City officials about what could happen if the area is annexed into the city someday.

The property was home to the Old Champion and Wyoming hard rock gold mines, which means that the area is littered with 39 abandoned mines – 35 are collapsed and four are open or partially collapsed mine shaft openings, according to the project description.

Broad and Boulder Properties’ plan proposes that American Hill Estates be divided into seven lots that are 3 to 4 acres in size.

“It will be a minimal impact on roads and services. We are talking about seven homes that will be consistent with the homes that have been developed along American Hill Road in the last five years in size and quality,” Ruble said. He said he was “frustrated” with an application process that started when he purchased the property in 1998.

“Obviously, there is a process, and I will honor the process,” he said.

The “mitigation measures” that must be met according to state law concern the cleanup of lead and arsenic found on the property by a geological study by Holdrege and Kull, an independent geological consulting company hired by Broad and Boulder Properties.

Ruble said he is improving the property by addressing the environmental hazards.

Neighbors and county commissioners are not only concerned about Broad and Boulder Properties’ cleanup duties, but also the impact the development plans have on the rest of the area.

Planning Commissioner Laura Duncan expressed concern about what impact increased traffic would have on “pedestrian rights” on American Hill Road.

“I think we tend to shortchange the pedestrian in our environment,” Duncan said. She said she would like to see larger shoulders or provisions made for a trail for pedestrian traffic.

Ruble said he felt this was unfair, saying: “Don’t make that a burden on my subdivision. You can’t require me to do something, or our company to do something, that you don’t require somebody else to do.”

Neighbors such as Lee and Rocky Pemberton are concerned about whether there is enough groundwater to support the needs of the new residents because the area will rely on wells for their water. “We do not have a guaranteed water supply by any stretch of the imagination,” Lee Pemberton said.

Ultimately, the Planning Commission looked to Nevada City City Manager Mark Miller for concerns that Nevada City may have with the development because the American Hill Estates lies in Nevada City’s “sphere of influence,” or area that could potentially be annexed. Miller explained that the city does not have the water or septic capacity to bring the area in yet, but it is something they could consider in the future.

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