Sacramento faces lawsuit for approving senior housing project

The owner of a million-dollar home overlooking McKinley Park hired a former assemblyman, traffic and parking expert, environmental planner, engineer and onetime state fire marshal to stop a senior housing complex from going up behind him.

After their arguments weren’t enough, Ted Wells took the city of Sacramento to court this month.

Wells’ firm, Dessins LLC, has alleged that the Sacramento City Council illegally exempted from environmental review the proposed 20,000-square-foot, three-story assisted-living facility. The City Council voted 9-0 to approve the project last month, after Wells had appealed a city Planning Commission ruling.

The new complex proposed by DT Real Estate Investments would stand 37 feet tall and include two dining rooms, a kitchen and 28 resident rooms where a Jehovah’s Witnesses church now stands on I Street.

Wells and some area residents have complained that the project would create more traffic headaches and change the character of the neighborhood by adding a three-story complex visible from McKinley Park.

Wells is an architectural historian whose primary address is in Laguna Niguel, according to voter-registration records. Dessins LLC bought the four-bedroom, three-bathroom H Street house overlooking McKinley Park for $1.25 million in 2011, according to property records. The 1940 home has an extensive garden with roses in the front yard and a long driveway. Wells doesn’t stay there, though he is making renovations, the caretaker of the residence said this week.

In a previous interview, Wells called the design plans “an elevated cubicle high above the street” and said there would be far too many people living in the area.

The I Street corridor already contains several apartment units, duplexes and the Sacramento Turn Verein, a German cultural center. Some neighbors say the narrow street and cars routinely parked along both sides already make the street dangerous.

One neighbor, Christine Cross, testified in January that she already has trouble navigating her “small SLC Mercedes” down I Street and fears what would happen if fire trucks and emergency vehicles had to respond regularly to the nursing facility.

City officials and developer Steve Trolio dismissed those concerns, noting that the site once served many more people as a church. They point to community support and the ideal location – close to McKinley Park, a hospital and mass transit – as reasons for why the project should move forward.

Trolio has responded to concerns that the neighborhood is already jammed with parked cars by renting additional parking spaces from Turn Verein across the street. That doubles the number of spots for a total of 16.

He said most senior residents aren’t likely to have cars and would not have huge numbers of visitors.

“This small boutique community would provide a much-needed service to the citizens of east Sacramento,” Trolio said.

At issue is whether the city followed procedures when it ruled the development exempt from the environmental review process. The city relied on two provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act that allow exemptions for infill development and proximity to mass transit, according to City Attorney James Sanchez.

Attorneys for Dessins LLC, which was incorporated in Delaware, accuse the city of flouting state law and approving a project that is “inconsistent” with the general plan. “The city erroneously failed to publicly consider or provide evidence in the public record addressing (CEQA),” the suit said.

Attorney Ash Pirayou declined comment. Wells did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Trolio and some east Sacramento residents said they believe the effort to derail the senior housing project is being driven by Maria Kelly, owner of the historic John T. Greene house, which also overlooks McKinley Park on H Street.

John T. Greene House LLC and Dessins LLC are both registered to the same address in Lakewood, Wash., according to records from the California secretary of state’s office. The Kelly family was the longtime owner of Channel 3 (KCRA), but sold the TV station in 1999.

“This could harm all infill development across the state,” Trolio said. “Maria Kelly would be producing case law against all infill development.”

Kelly did not respond to requests for comment, though she testified against the project at the City Council meeting in January.

CEQA litigation can take several months to resolve, Sanchez said. He expressed confidence that the suit would eventually be dismissed.

“At the end of the day, we feel comfortable that the records and facts will support the council decision,” he said.

Councilman Steve Cohn, who represents the area, emphasized the strong community support for the project, noting that it had won the backing of three established east Sacramento neighborhood groups: McKinley East Sacramento Neighborhood Association, East Sacramento Improvement Association and East Sacramento Preservation Neighborhood Association.

“It’s a pretty tough trick, quite frankly, because we have quite a few neighborhood groups,” Cohn said. “It’s pretty hard to get all three to agree on anything.”

Related stories from Sacramento Bee