At Curtis Park Village, main streets are paved and traffic lights hang above the intersections. Utility cables sprout from the dirt, ready for the first homes to be built weeks from now at the former railyard and toxic cleanup site near Sacramento City College.
Yet even with construction about to start, the long-simmering feud between developer Paul Petrovich and residents of the adjacent Curtis Park neighborhood is heating up again. This time, the dispute concerns Petrovich’s plan to shrink the community’s park and build dozens of houses on land meant to be open space.
Petrovich insists the shrunken but redesigned park is the best solution to a difficult drainage problem. Residents question the need and say it’s about profit.
City officials say they will ultimately help sort out the latest tiff between the odd couple of Petrovich – a developer known for his hard-charging style and the chrome sculptures he installs in front of his shopping centers – and the Curtis Park neighbors, who have vigilantly monitored his every move.
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“There have been a lot of twists and turns,” said Councilman Jay Schenirer, who represents Curtis Park. “We’ve been able to solve every challenge that’s come up, and I’m confident we can do it with this one as well.”
City Planning Director David Kwong said he couldn’t comment on Petrovich’s proposed changes because the plan has not yet been submitted to the city. But he said such a change to an already approved plan would be reviewed by multiple departments.
The latest squabble started when Petrovich presented his new park plan Jan. 15 to neighbors at the Sierra 2 Center for the Arts and Community.
It calls for the planned park at the north end of Curtis Park Village to be cut in half, from 6.8 acres to 3.3 acres. In place of a large open space surrounding a shallow detention basin, the new design would feature a deeper and smaller pond with a year-round fountain bordered by a narrower swath of greenery and benches.
Petrovich says the change is necessary because the city recently revised its estimates of how much water the Curtis Park Village detention basin would need to hold. Runoff from the established neighborhood, and not just the new community, would fill the pond during major storms, he said.
“The existing neighborhood generates 250,000 gallons of water in a 10-year storm event, and I’m having to deal with it,” he said.
Petrovich had planned to build a 1.3-acre detention basin surrounded by 5.5 acres of park. But accommodating the additional runoff would have forced him to build a 4.2-acre detention basin with just 2.6 acres of park space around it, he said.
“It became a huge open-pit strip mine with a sliver of grass around it,” Petrovich said. The detention basin would be empty much of the year but the ground would remain soggy, unusable and unattractive, he said.
“You can’t grow trees in it. You can’t put play equipment in it. You can’t play soccer. It’s basically a weed patch with a four-foot grade.”
So Petrovich’s team came up with what he called an “elegant solution.”
The new plan calls for building a smaller, deeper pond with a water feature in the middle. The pond would be filled with water year round and emptied quickly into a 10-foot drain pipe as storms approached.
The elaborate pumping system needed would cost about $1.5 million, Petrovich said. The pond would be landscaped and feature “benches, play equipment and ducks,” he said.
“Many luxury communities have water features,” including upscale subdivisions in the Placer County suburbs of Roseville, Rocklin and Granite Bay, he said.
Because of the reduced park size and additional housing that would replace planned retail, Petrovich said he would pay $4 million in mitigation fees to the city. That money could be used to enhance the nearby 17-acre Curtis Park.
But to offset the costs of the new drainage facility, Petrovich proposes building about 40 more single-family homes on what had been planned as park space. The lots would be sold to home builders at a time when ready-to-build lots, especially those in prime locations, have been selling at premium prices because of a regional shortage.
The first phase of 90 homes in Curtis Park Village will be priced from $450,000 to $650,000 and will range from about 2,200 to 3,200 square feet, Petrovich said. At full build-out, the development now would have 490 housing units, including single-family and multifamily dwellings, he said.
Curtis Park residents said they understood Petrovich has a drainage problem but objected to his proposed reduction in park space. “This is not what was presented. This is not what we agreed on,” said Bruce Pierini, a professor at Sacramento City College.
“He’s trying to increase his investment returns, and he has done some good things in design plans,” Pierini said. But if an adequately sized park isn’t installed now, it never will be, he said. “This is the time to make those decisions that will affect the community over generations, and we won’t have another chance.”
Kathleen Ave, who lives near the new community, said Petrovich had too quickly dismissed the idea of a large detention basin that could be used for recreation during the dry seasons. “That seems like an option that’s just been dismissed out of hand,” she said, “but we’d like to see it stay on the table and be explored.”