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Planning Commission votes 5-1 for new hall & MOB; lawsuit threatened

Updated Mar. 12, 3:48 p.m.–
Despite the threat of litigation from a resident group Wednesday night, the Citrus Heights Planning Commission voted 5-1 in favor of recommending the city council approve a proposal to tear down the existing city hall, replace it with a 68,000 square feet medical office building (MOB), and build a new $22 million hall just north of the Post Office.

Planning commission MOB city hall proposal. Photo by Luke Otterstad
Norman Hill, with the resident group Preserve Our Civic Center, addresses planning commissioners Wednesday night.

“None of us will ever, ever be able to make all of the people happy all of the time,” Planning Commission Chairman Rick Doyle said just prior to the vote, adding his fellow commissioners should not make their decision based on “threats or innuendos.”

Doyle was joined by Commissioner Russell Blair in a yes vote, citing belief of a recent positive shift in public support for the proposal. Blair held up a stack of documents that included a record of over 100 public comments received, stating a majority of recent comments were in support of the proposal, following the city council dropping plans to move city hall to a site on Antelope Road last year.

[From last year: New City Hall Site Option Draws Support, While Medical Building Criticized“]

Doyle and Blair were also joined in support votes by Commissioners Christy DeCelle, Albert Fox and Michael Lagomarsino, with Trish Dawson supporting an alternative that would rehabilitate the existing city hall and allow Dignity Health to develop its medical building on the 10.9-acre “Stock Property” next to the Post Office instead. Commissioner Leah Cox was absent.

Although several building alternatives were considered during the preparation of a several hundred page Environmental Impact Report (EIR), the study found the current proposal would create “no significant effects” to the environment, after mitigation measures. According to a staff report delivered to commissioners Wednesday night, under the California Environmental Quality Act, an alternative is only required if “significant and unavoidable impacts” are found.

[Related: GALLERY: Artistic Images of Proposed New City Hall]

Compared to controversial, crowded meetings last year, public comment was noticeably lower, with just eight speakers making their voice heard on Wednesday.

Two City staff members gave comment in support for the proposal, citing aging and inefficient existing city hall facilities, while business leaders from the Chamber of Commerce and Sunrise Marketplace said the deal would bring an economic boost and “help draw new tenants to our retail corridor.”

Beryl Turner-Weeks, who lives “across the street” from the proposed new hall, reiterated comments residents have had in the past about project cost in light of a shrinking $26 million city reserve, as well as increased construction noise and traffic — although a traffic study report by Fehr and Peers found the proposal would not create a significant increase to traffic in the area.

[Read the final version of the EIR and traffic study here:]

Resident and retired environmental attorney Norman Hill told commissioners that his group, Preserve Our Civic Center, was “ready and willing to pursue litigation,” but proposed an acceptable compromise that would lessen the visibility impacts of the MOB by lowering it from three stories down to two, and increasing the setback away from Greenback Lane. Hill’s “olive branch” compromise, was rejected by Dignity Health’s Sigrid Owyang, who said the current three-story design maximizes parking spaces, is more “comfortable” for patients, and has been tested elsewhere.

Preserve Our Civic Center previously threatened litigation over the Antelope Road location for city hall, causing council members to vote 3-2 to put a hold on the plans in July last year, adopting the new 10.9-acre Stock Property as the “preferred site” several months later. Hill said POCC is hopeful a compromise can be met that would likewise avoid litigation in this case as well.

[From July:Council Postpones Vote on New City Hall Deal, After Lawsuit Threat”]

Discussion of the proposal came about last year when City officials said Dignity Health proposed a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for Citrus Heights to get a new hall for a net cost of about $5 million, after 15 years. Due to changes in the new hall’s proposed location, that net cost is now estimated at $8.9 million, according to Monica Alejandrez, assistant to the city manager.

Cost benefits to the City would come primarily from income brought in by the proposed Dignity Health lease, as well as from projected energy and repair savings coming from a more efficient new city hall building, according to City Manager Henry Tingle.

While the planning commission’s vote only sends a recommendation on to the city council, a final vote on the proposal has been set for a city council meeting on March 26, where opponents pledge to pack the meeting out.

“I don’t pull out the big guns for every meeting,” said Tim Schaefer, who heads the resident group Save City Hall. “But I can guarantee you that this room will be packed for the council meeting.”

view of medical office building on Greenback lane in Citrus Heights
Computer rendering of Dignity Health’s proposed new three-story medical office building on Greenback Lane.
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