On grassy hills just south of Highway 50 in El Dorado Hills, developers have spent the past 15 years building a downtown from scratch. It features a European-style boulevard of shops, boutiques and offices, a waterway with a stone bridge and shimmering fountain. Amenities include a movie theater and a Mercedes dealership.
Now a Stockton company, AG Spanos Cos., wants to bring a $60 million addition to El Dorado Hills Town Center: a housing project of 250 upscale apartments with most rents averaging $1,600 to $1,700 a month.
“We feel like we’re bringing the people to the village,” said Lex Economou, regional vice president for AG Spanos. “The concept of the town center was always to bring an urban village to the suburbs. And we’re bringing 250 units to the heart of a walkable community.”
On Jan. 2, a residents group sued to stop the project, which was approved in a 4-1 vote by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors in November.
Opponents claim the board wrongfully overrode the decision of the county planning commission, which rejected the project on grounds that it exceeded county general plan guidelines for housing density.
“This was an unlawful approval,” said Sue Taylor, an advocate with a slow-growth group called Save Our County. “The county created a new policy specifically for this project. And for no reason, the board approved it without addressing the impacts.”
Supervisor Ron Mikulaco, who represents the area, said the apartment complex is to be built on land originally designated for construction of a hotel, the second in the town center.
When the second hotel project sputtered, Mikulaco said, the board majority believed that building upscale apartments would provide much needed housing in spirit with the original vision of the center. The multiuse project is near Blue Shield of California, one of the county’s largest employers.
“There aren’t many places in El Dorado County where you could put an apartment complex of this size and scope,” Mikulaco said. “The question was do we want to leave a 4 1/2-acre dirt field in the middle of the town center. If we said no to this project, that is probably what we would be looking at down the line.”
He added: “This wasn’t an easy vote. We have to accommodate for the next generation. We need to strike a balance as a community.”
A residents group organized to fight the project, Citizens for Sensible Development in El Dorado Hills, filed suit against El Dorado County, the supervisors and the developer. It charged that the board pushed through “the largest apartment complex ever approved in the county” without ordering a proper environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Attorney Marsha Burch said the plaintiffs include residents in El Dorado Hills and western El Dorado County.
The lawsuit said the urban village, including at least one five-story building and a 60-foot-tall parking garage, would include 55 apartments per acre, shattering a county general plan guideline of 24 units per acre for apartment communities. The development is to be built near the town center’s man-made lagoon and be bordered by Town Center Boulevard, Mercedes Lane and Vine Street.
Burch said the project was never properly evaluated for effects on traffic, air quality, water and law enforcement.
“Right now, there has been a fairly minimal review for a significant project,” Burch said.
The largest completed apartment complex in El Dorado County is the 220-unit Marina Village Apartments near Francisco Drive and Village Center in El Dorado Hills. Two larger projects are under construction or planned near the town center at White Rock Road and Valley View Parkway.
Construction is underway there on 342 apartments, including White Rock Village, an income-restricted community for people earning 30 to 50 percent of the area’s median income. A future project is to bring an additional 370 apartments.
Economou said attorneys for Spanos Cos. are reviewing the lawsuit. He said the project would be an ideal complement for the town center, offering a “live-work-play” lifestyle with a resort-style pool and bocce courts.
“It’s going to be the nicest project in the region,” he said.
Call The Bee’s Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539.