A proposal to demolish Citrus Heights’ civic center complex to make way for a medical office building is touted by city officials as a good business deal that would help fund a new City Hall building better suited to the needs of employees and the community.
But the project has drawn fire from some residents who say it would destroy the vestiges of Fountain Square, a cherished venue with a prize-winning rose garden. They also are wary of plans for relocating and funding construction of a new city hall.
“There are large gaps in information, and nobody seems to want to step up to fill in the gaps,” said Susan Howell, who lives in Binet Estates, a neighborhood west of the civic center. An informational meeting the city held in August, she said, raised more questions than it answered.
The city last summer announced that Panattoni Development Co. had submitted a plan for a three-story, 66,465-square-foot building at Greenback Lane and Fountain Square Drive on property that is part of Citrus Heights’ civic center. To make way for the project, all buildings on the civic center campus except the Police Department building would be torn down. The initial proposal called for constructing a new, two-story city hall in Fountain Square, north of the current buildings.
But after hearing from residents during the August meeting that they didn’t want two large office buildings on the site, City Manager Henry Tingle said staff members decided to pursue an alternate location for the city hall and proceed with the proposal for only the medical office building on the Fountain Square property.
“We can only do this once,” Tingle said. “Looking at an alternate location for city hall gives us an opportunity to be more creative and provide more amenities.”
The city has scheduled another informational meeting for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Citrus Heights Community Center, 6300 Fountain Square Drive, to present the latest proposal. Notices of the meeting were mailed to property owners within 1,000 feet of the Fountain Square site, exceeding the 500-foot requirement for a development project, city officials said. But project opponents argue that notices should have been sent to all Citrus Heights residents, because demolishing the current civic center and constructing a new city hall has ramifications for all the city’s taxpayers.
Becky Furtado, communications director for Dignity Health, said the proposed medical building would house 50 new health care providers with the Mercy Medical Group as well as 120 support staff. These would be new providers, not transfers from other sites, and would be in addition to the approximately 50 providers housed in facilities on Coyle Avenue in Carmichael, near Mercy San Juan Medical Center. The new facility would help meet the growing demand for medical services expected to accompany implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and would serve Citrus Heights and Dignity Health’s northern Sacramento market.
The Fountain Square site is an ideal location because of its proximity to Mercy San Juan Medical Center, convenient access off a major arterial – Greenback Lane – and available parking, Furtado said. If the project is approved, Dignity Health plans to open the facility by the end of 2015.
The medical facility, Tingle said, would help diversify Citrus Heights’ economic base, bring higher-end jobs to the community and provide medical services at a convenient location for residents. Constructing the facility on city-owned property also would fund an estimated 50 percent to 60 percent of the cost of building a new city hall, he said.
Tingle said Dignity Health would pay to construct and maintain the medical building, which the city would own. Dignity Health also would pay a minimum of $5 million over 15 years to lease the site. At the end of that period, the health care firm would have the option to purchase the building and the property for $1, Tingle said.
The city would draw on its general capital reserve fund to construct a new city hall, and Dignity Health’s lease payments would go into the capital reserve to replenish the fund, Tingle said.
“One of the things we’re proud of is that we are debt-free,” he said, and the proposed project is intended to maintain the city’s debt-free status.
Citrus Heights incorporated in 1997 and transformed the former Fountain Square – once home to a nursery, rose garden, boutiques and a restaurant – into its civic center, initially leasing the property, then purchasing it for $5.25 million in 2005.
But Tingle said the buildings are more than 35 years old and in need of new roofs, new heating and air-conditioning systems, and other costly repairs and upgrades to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and meet mechanical and electrical needs. The estimated $6 million to $7 million in needed repairs and maintenance costs “wouldn’t take care of any window dressing,” he said. “They’re all internal things.”
Tingle said potential sites for a new city hall have been identified, including an approximately 4-acre city-owned parcel on Antelope Road between Mariposa Avenue and Auburn Boulevard. There also are plenty of buildings in Citrus Heights that could temporarily house city offices until a new city hall is built, he said.
Howell, however, said she would rather the city invested in the current buildings, which she considers part of the community’s culture and history.
“I don’t like the idea of the tearing down Fountain Square,” she said. “It’s not as old as my house, and I had a new furnace put in and a new roof put on.”
Beryl Turner-Weeks, whose home in the Stock Ranch subdivision backs up to the civic center property, objects to the proposed project, saying three-quarters of the Fountain Square site would be turned into a parking lot.
“It doesn’t make sense to have city hall other than where it is,” she said, noting that it is across the street from the city’s Community Center and the post office, creating a true civic center.
Turner-Weeks also questioned the plans for funding a new city hall. The city, she said, should wait nine more years, until it begins receiving the share of property tax revenue that now goes to the county, and use those monies to construct a new building on the Fountain Square site. Under the revenue neutrality provision of incorporation, the city must compensate the county for lost revenue for 25 years.
With little vacant land available in Citrus Heights, Tingle said, any new construction in the city means something must be torn down. Tingle said he recognizes that many residents cherish the Fountain Square site, but most of the amenities it once offered no longer exist. Plans call for incorporating the rose bushes and koi pond in a new city hall complex. Some of the koi in the Fountain Square pond are 60 to 70 years old, he said, and they would be moved to the new site. Combining those features with amenities such as additional public meeting space would “create a real sense of place for the city,” he said.
But Howell and Turner-Weeks said there are many commercial properties in need of redevelopment in Citrus Heights. They argue that residents would be better served if Dignity Health were directed to one of those locations and Fountain Square maintained as the city’s civic centerpiece.
“Let us have that little bit of charm left,” Howell said.
Tingle said he expects the proposal for the medical building project to be presented to the Planning Commission in April or May, and to the City Council in June.
Call The Bee’s Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.