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Old Posted Sep 20, 2007, 6:17 PM
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City set to take lead on Greenbriar project
Developing Greenbriar is seen alternately as wise or overreaching.

By Mary Lynne Vellinga of The Sacramento Bee

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Despite an outpouring of angst from North Natomas residents, who complained that their community already is starved for public services, the city of Sacramento on Wednesday extended its reach over another big chunk of Natomas land.

Members of the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission voted 4-3 Wednesday evening to allow the city to extend its sphere of influence over Greenbriar, a 577- acre square of land northwest of the existing city limits. Members representing special districts and the public voted no, while those representing the county and its cities voted yes.

Expanding the sphere of influence sets the stage for the City Council to annex and allow development on the land, owned by a partnership of developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos and Woodside Homes.

City staff members say an annexation vote could come before the end of the year, but that would need another nod of approval from LAFCO.

The Tsakopoulos partnership proposes about 3,000 housing units and about 40 acres of commercial development.

Tucked into the junction of Interstate 5 and Highway 99, Greenbriar is bounded on three sides by existing or planned development -- a circumstance that city officials say makes it a logical choice for development.

"It really does make sense if we're talking about a logical, orderly path of development," said LAFCO member and City Councilman Rob Fong. "The future growth of this region is inevitable. We have to plan for it."

Supporters offered a variety of reasons for developing the property, much of which is now classified as prime farmland.

A planned light-rail line to Sacramento International Airport would traverse the property, and Regional Transit officials support development there because it would help provide riders.

"I think Greenbriar is a perfect example of what we call smart growth," said LAFCO commissioner and Sacramento County Supervisor Jimmie Yee, who offered a lengthy speech backing the project. Yee is a former mayor of Sacramento.

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments, meanwhile, applauded Greenbriar -- where the houses and apartments would be packed together at an average of about 11 per acre -- as a good example of development that complies with the Blueprint, the growth plan adopted by SACOG members in 2004.

"We think they've done a really excellent job," said SACOG Executive Director Mike McKeever.

Yet critics countered Wednesday with reasons they think Greenbriar epitomizes an ill-thought-out choice for growth.

Like the rest of North Natomas, it sits in a floodplain. The Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency has revealed that levees protecting the area are weaker than previously thought. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing to reclassify the area as a flood-risk zone.

City officials have applied for a special A99 flood designation that would allow development to continue while the levees were strengthened -- first to withstand a 100-year flood and then a 200-year flood. A 100-year flood has a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year.

Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, president of her family's firm, AKT Development, has submitted a letter pledging that no houses will be built until the Greenbriar property is certified as having 100-year flood protection, a threshold expected to be met by 2010.

That pledge did not silence those who raised flooding as an issue, however.

"The plan tonight, and the analysis put forward to support it, is one that doesn't deal with the uncertainties created by climate change, and its impact on flooding," said LAFCO Commissioner Chris Tooker.

"I don't know what's so magical about 100-year flood protection," Tooker added. "I don't have the confidence that it is going to provide me with adequate protection in the future."

Environmentalists also raised concerns that federal and state wildlife agencies haven't signed off on the amount of habitat Greenbriar will be required to set aside for endangered and threatened species such as the giant garter snake and Swainson's hawk.

LAFCO Commissioner Charles Rose wondered why a residential community should be built under the flight path of Sacramento International Airport, even if the planes overhead don't violate commonly accepted noise limits.

"For the life of me, I can't understand why we're building in the flight path," Rose said.

Much of the concern expressed Wednesday night came from residents of North Natomas, who said the city should improve their police, fire and other services before taking on more land.

"Every day people are just shaking their heads and saying, 'What are we going to do? Even the barest minimum of services we've been promised have not been delivered,' " said resident Holly Brickner.

City staff members maintained that Greenbriar would produce excess money that could be used to help fill what they described as a $70 million gap in funding for services promised to North Natomas, including a library, roads, police and fire.

Last edited by innov8; Sep 20, 2007 at 8:14 PM.
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