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Planning commission approves controversial Tahoe Park development project

After over 20 community members voiced their grievances against the development, including accusations of forgery, the Planning and Design Commission approved the building of a 224-unit student housing complex for Sac State students in Tahoe Park Thursday night.

All but one commissioner approved of the development to be named the Grove Sacramento under Campus Crest, a national student housing developer. The commissioners did add a stipulation that Campus Crest provide on-site security between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Any resident can now file an appeal with the commission, which comes with a $290 fee. An appeal would send the matter to City Council. Residents are now considering their next options, according to Isaac Gonzalez, president of the Tahoe Park Neighborhood Association.

Planning and design staff and commissioners said they didn’t find any major issues with the project, though the neighborhood association and some community members accused the developer of not engaging them in the process and even forging signatures on letters of support. Past issues with a similar nearby complex sparked concerns for public safety and increased traffic.

“Campus Crest is worried about those things, too,” said David Temblador, land-use attorney representing the developer. “It’s a unique community. It’s really a question for the city. They studied the traffic for years. They’re the experts.”

The Grove Sacramento wants to put 224 apartment units with 600 beds designed for college students on the 3000 block of Redding Avenue. An 8,000-square foot clubhouse, pool, outdoor ball courts and common open spaces will also be included. Another student housing complex, now known as The Element, sits close by on 4th Avenue near Target.

“It creates an oversaturation of one single housing type in a confined area. That’s not smart practice to saturate one area with one housing type,” Gonzalez said. 

The Element had its share of problems in the past. With 600 residents there and another 600 expected at the Grove, residents said they worry about public safety.

“This is my neighborhood,” said resident Kathleen Winkelman. “I had to live with Jefferson Commons for all these years. It is a sore on the community. It stands out like a bad sore that you can’t put a Band-Aid on. So please someone for once in their lives care about the community and what they’re saying to you. We don’t want it. We don’t need it.”

In 2004, The Element, known as Jefferson Commons at the time, generated a substantial amount of phone calls to the police department, including over 400 calls in 2005. With a change in management in 2010, those calls have significantly decreased.

Even a sister complex, known as Jefferson Lofts Apartments, was planned for the Grove site but was scrapped before going to the commission in 2005. Residents remembered those first few years dealing with the security issues, but the commission said the Grove is from a different developer with over 60 successful properties across the country compared to the project rejected eight years ago.

“There’s a level of collegiate bashing that seems inappropriate,” said Tim Ray, commissioner, with addressing the public safety concerns tying college students to alcohol and crime. He also added he was “unsympathetic” to the community’s complaints.

Other commissioners agreed the development, which is a half a mile away from the Sac State campus, made sense to be in Tahoe Park. Some even said they wish they could’ve sent their kids to a student housing complex near their university campuses.

“I think it’s a great program because my first children did not have this opportunity,” said Carl Lubawy, commissioner. “It’s more important to feel comfortable with your child being in the right environment with the right peer group going through the same experiences.”

As a compromise, the commission added the resolution that Campus Crest provide on-site security between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. to work alongside the 14 on-site staff members. Originally, the developer offered a rent-free unit for a Sacramento police officer, but the police department declined due to labor issues.

Traffic was another concern for residents. The area has a light rail station, railroad tracks, highway ramps and incomplete pedestrian and bicycle pathways. The neighborhood is a part of the 65th Street Station Area Plan, a city plan to make improvements for all types of traffic adopted in 2002. A newer version was adopted in 2010, but with the recession, a financial report has yet to be conducted to start the plan.

“There is no safe access,” said eight-year resident Jodi Cassell, who rides her bike up 65th Street and gets honks from drivers when she passes the ramps. “You have 600 students already and you’re putting 600 more. That’s the height of irresponsibility to have no safe access across Route 50.”

Planners said if this development comes into the neighborhood, the city will start the process of fixing transportation issues in the congested area while the development will generate revenue for the plan.

On top of the public safety and traffic issues, neighborhood association representatives said they had concerns about the developer’s integrity over allegedly forged letters. Three residents were filing a complaint with the police against the developer for forgery, they added.

Last summer, the developer approached the Tahoe Park Neighborhood Association about the project. Since then, they had met three times, but some residents argued that wasn’t enough and their voices were being ignored in the process. Earlier this year, they circulated a petition demanding more dialogue between them and the developer. Three hundred signatures were collected. In retaliation, they said, the developer had representatives go door to door and collect signatures as well.

“Right away, they didn’t pass the sniff test,” Gonzalez said. “They were all written alike. Gut instinct, I believed them to be forgers. I Googled the names and contacts. Not one person I spoke to on the phone could say they wrote the letters. I knocked on some doors. I spoke to twelve people face-to-face. None of those residents wrote the letter.”

Resident Kevin Brown said he didn’t sign the letter of support but signed a previous document when he thought the developer was going to have an on-site police officer.

“Someone drafted this letter, put my initials at the bottom, and sent it to you,” he said to the board. “I don’t sign my name with initials, and this letter, I did not draft this letter.”

Gonzalez said some residents may have signed the letters, with the developer’s representatives confusing residents as representatives from Sac State. The commission decided the signatures match on other documents submitted to prove them, and some residents may have signed the letters after changing their minds or not knowing what they were signing.

"The allegations are not true," Temblador said. "We’d like to stay on the substance of this project." Campus Crest did hire community representatives as part of an outreach effort, he said, but the signatures were not falsified.

Sac State decided not to take a stance on the project after hearing from the developer and neighborhood groups. The university does have long-term plans to add more on-campus housing.

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