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Planning Commission approves Tsakopoulos’ proposal to develop wetlands

Land in Sacramento County’s Vineyard area owned by Angelo Tsakopoulos, seen here in 2014, could soon be developed, pending approval from the Board of Supervisors.
Land in Sacramento County’s Vineyard area owned by Angelo Tsakopoulos, seen here in 2014, could soon be developed, pending approval from the Board of Supervisors. Sacramento Bee file

The Sacramento County Planning Commission voted Monday to allow developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos to develop open space in Sacramento County’s Vineyard area that residents long believed would remain a protected wetland preserve.

The commission’s 3-1 vote came over objections from residents and a recommendation from county staff to deny the project. The development must still be approved by the county Board of Supervisors and has not been signed off by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The piece of land known as Silver Springs Lot P has remained under the ownership of Tsakopoulos, but residents believed the county in 1991 had enacted strong protections that would ensure the property just north of Elk Grove would remain a nature preserve. Many said they purchased the large homes, which approach $1 million in value, in part because they sit next to open space.

Tsakopoulos’ company, AKT Development, now wants to build 46 houses on half-acre lots near Calvine and Excelsior roads, doing away with some of the wetlands. AKT officials say the company never intended for the land to remain a permanent nature preserve.

The developer’s plan would keep 50 of Lot P’s 91 1/2 acres as a permanent preserve, adding walking trails and providing maintenance for invasive species. But the plan was unanimously opposed by the Vineyard Area Community Planning Advisory Council because residents said they purchased their homes with the understanding Lot P would remain a preserve.

In 1991, county officials included conditions in a zoning agreement that restricted use of the land to open space and prohibited it from being subdivided. But such conditions can be changed by a vote, and stronger legal protections often used for nature preserves were never put in place.

In a staff report prepared by the county Office of Planning and Environmental Review, project manager Tim Hawkins said Silver Springs residents “had a valid expectation ... that Lot P would remain open space in perpetuity and because of that became a feature of Silver Springs.”

Hawkins also said the smaller lot size of the new development would be “inconsistent and incompatible” with the existing neighborhood. The staff report recommended the commission deny AKT’s request.

Despite the recommendation and nearly unanimous opposition from residents, the Planning Commission advanced the proposal to the Board of Supervisors, with a suggestion that AKT make an effort to “soften” the transition for homeowners closest to Calvine and Excelsior roads who will lose wetland access.

Planning Commission Chairwoman Cara Martinson said she thought the homeowners “were done a disservice” by the Board of Supervisors in 1991 when it did not change the underlying zoning of Lot P.

While they said they understood residents’ complaints, Martinson and Commissioners Alan Hom and Teresa Stanley said they recognized AKT’s ownership of the land and their right to develop it.

In 1999, according to the county, AKT received permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to preserve a separate 184-acre property elsewhere as vernal pools to offset impacts from developing the Silver Springs property. But the Army Corps of Engineers rejected AKT’s application to build on Lot P in 2004.

The Army Corps has not made a decision on AKT’s newest proposal, according to Robert Kidd, a spokesman for the agency.“The Corps still needs some additional information from the developer in order to have enough information to make a determination,” he said.

At the Planning Commission meeting Monday, Nicholas Avdis, a lawyer representing AKT Development, said the company always meant to develop Lot P. He produced documents that indicated residents were sent a disclosure form in 2000 letting them know of the company’s intention to eventually build on the wetlands.

Residents at the meeting said they never received any such notice.

”We were told that it would be left as it was,” said Deborah Buchanan, a Silver Springs resident for nearly 25 years. “Now they want to come in and they want to do more, and they’re saying they’re not going to do anything after that. I’m also very aware, I’m a Realtor, I’ve looked at the records and I’ve seen documentation from these people. There’s at least 40 homes affected and they did pay lot premiums.”

Paul Baymiller, a Silver Springs resident whose home backs onto the wetlands, said he was also told by a sales agent that the land behind his house was a protected nature preserve. He said he paid a $20,000 premium for his lot.

“I think what is bothering most people is that when it says in line items not to ever be built, to be open space, and your expectation is that. Well, all the behind-the-scenes legal mumbo jumbo means nothing to people,” said Bart Baer, CPAC chair for the Vineyard area.

“This whole area out there is rural and will remain rural and they want to put this right in the middle,” he added.

Molly Sullivan: 916-321-1176, @SullivanMollyM

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