YOLO SUN NEWS REPORT :
A unique context within Woodland’s development docket concerns a key parcel of 38 acres, between County Fair Mall and Woodland Community and Senior Center (and Sports Park), near the City’s southern edge on South East Street.
As the mall was once, several decades ago, thought to be potentially expanding, this 38 acres has long been reserved and zoned by the city as commercial land (C-2).
Yolo Residential Investors LLC (YRI), of which Paul Prudler is the primary member, presently owns or represents this property for the cause of creating upon it a residential development project, the Prudler Subdivision.
In August of 2005, Woodland Planning Commission approved a development petition for this land based upon a housing project for “active seniors,” perhaps a neglected housing focus since the city does not specifically zone for senior-oriented residential land. However, this project concept was cast aside during the Great Recession.
A long and winding negotiation process later unfolded (2010-11), wherein the city has potentially extracted from YRI about $1.5 million in compensatory, development impact fees related to YRI’s revised project being perceived as unfairly competitive with an immense, adjacent, already approved and underperforming residential development: Spring Lake (only about 25% built out).
Also, the city has provoked YRI to agree to help financially support the project-adjacent, municipal Sports Park through establishment of a relevant facilities district.
During 2013, YRI’s (Prudler Subdivision) revised project swiftly ramped up as the city began to process its new residential development application for this land.
What has been strangely overlooked in these matters, however, is the rather pertinent fact that this development project is being moved forward by the City of Woodland in direct and blatant violation of its voter-adopted (2006) Urban Limit Line Ordinance.
___ Originally: “Active Senior” Housing Project ___
A 246 unit senior housing project involving this land was begun in 2005, its formally petitioned proposal being approved by Woodland’s Planning Commission by early August. However, this project didn’t proceed to fruition.
During 2010-11, discussions and negotiations began between the city and YRI regarding a revised development application for this land, involving 180 (general) housing units, a reduction of 66 units, more than a quarter of the units within the original application.
Issues quickly arose about the fact that the YRI parcel and the city’s massive and sputtering, Spring Lake Specific Plan area (SLSP) were contiguous and shared some infrastructure.
YRI’s land avoided enclosure within the SLSP and its several expensive layers of impact-fee based special districts, according to knowledgeable sources, because of — ownership objections, legal obstacles (noted in its project file) and this parcel’s expressed potential for a distinctly needed identity, better economically serving: “[A]ctive seniors,” according to the city.
Close proximity to the city Senior Center, etc., seems an obvious value, and this land fronts along East Street, a major corridor beneficially directed toward the city’s downtown area.
Situated between the mall and the city’s vast new civic complex, YRI’s particular parcel possesses a unique identity and developable character, concerning which the city’s Urban Limit Line law is clearly applicable.
___ Development Impact Fee Differential ___
YRI indicated (August 2011) through its attorney that it suggests $14,280 per unit is the actual “impact fee differential [with SLSP, and w]e have proposed to pay half of that difference (approximately $7,140 per unit) as a voluntary contribution to the City, for unrestricted use by the City to fund public improvements or services. This voluntary contribution is intended to allay concerns that the Prudler Subdivision would have a significant economic advantage in development costs compared to SpringLake.”
YRI’s attorney (George Phillips, Phillips Land Law, Loomis) continues that: “Further, in response to an interest expressed by the City, we propose to contribute to the maintenance of the SportsPark facility through formation of a services [district] for the project.
“Finally, as we discussed, the City would not be looking to impose a special tax or shortfall fee on the Prudler project to compensate for the assumed reduction in revenues to the City associated with changing the zoning of the subject property from commercial to residential.”
___ Plea For City Confirmation Of Accord With Prudler Subdivision ___
This August, 2011, letter by Phillips to Deven also states that: “Making the proposed revision to the project and supporting documents will require the expenditure of significant funds to complete. Prior to initiating this effort we would like to confirm that the City is in accord with respect to the revised project, the proposed approach to impact fees, and funding for the SportsPark.”
Woodland City Manager, Mark Deven, soon responds by writing that: “[T]his project will be supported by staff and we believe that the conditions described in your letter will be favorably received by the Planning Commission and City Council as part of the review process.”
Deven does not mention the legal need to ensure implementation of the Urban Limit Line law, although such an imperative planning examination and “re-evaluation” might well: “[D]etermine the potential for increased residential densities,” perhaps well above (even double) the density indicated and intended by YRI’s revised project.
Logically and prudently, it would appear that implementation / application of this law should occur at an early stage of project planning. However, such timeliness has oddly failed in this instance.
Indeed, a fundamental question of legal interpretation involved with implementation of the city’s Urban Limit Line law is: When is it to be applied to a project?
___ Planning Commission Petition ___
Woodland’s Community Development Director at this time, Nick Ponticello, followed up on Deven’s direction regarding YRI’s revised project by detailing in a letter dated: November 4, 2011: “The previous petition submitted on August 5, 2005, [ ] was specifically designed as active senior housing development. If the revised project is not in substantial compliance with the previously approved petition, then a new petition is required to be submitted and approved by the Planning Commission.”
However, there has apparently been no (supposedly “required”) re-submittal of the Planning Commission petition; at least none appears in the current project file.
According to the project file a “revised project” submittal was made on January 18, 2013; while, there is no evidence of any process related to re-submitting the Planning Commission petition. Such a petition is sometimes undertaken in association with development projects in order to obtain a general, tentative and conditional nature of municipal approval prior to expending extensive resources toward a project.
Ironically, precisely such a predicament now confronts YRI, as a result of inexplicable neglect regarding implementation the Urban Limit Line law.
YRI’s project is now moving forward in the city’s planning process, absent re-petitioning of the Planning Commission, according to city staff, because such re-petitioning is not actually “required.” (as written by Ponticello).
On May 13, 2013, YRI’s attorney, Phillips, did make the effort to write a letter to city planners, requesting that its land be designated as Low Density Residential for purposes of zoning for the new (2015-35) General Plan.
YRI’s present (“revised”) plan is for 204 lots on 38 acres, resulting in a unit density of 5.85 units per acre, according to YRI’s development consultant.
___ Urban Limit Line Ordinance ___
Not yet implemented (apparently, until the new 2015-35 General Plan), an Urban Limit Line Ordinance was adopted by Woodland voters in June of 2006.
It would seem plain that local voters did not intend a near decade-long delay in implementation of such basic planning law.
This ordinance establishes that: “[T]he City shall continually reevaluate residential land use densities, housing policies and zoning to determine the potential for increased residential densities for both infill sites and undeveloped land within the permanent urban limit line. The City shall continually review existing non-residential zoning to determine potential for conversion to higher density residential uses within the permanent urban line.”
There has apparently yet been no municipal planning process, at all, related to implementing this ballot-based ordinance regarding YRI’s project, intended for location upon a unique and key peripheral parcel.
And of course, both prongs of this voter-installed planning ordinance have been fully relevant to YRI’s land, since it has for decades been zoned as commercial.
“[C]ontinually reevaluate” would seem to indicate that such would occur at least upon each successive project concept / application pertaining to a unique and key parcel such as YRI’s land.
This legally-binding municipal ordinance, however, has apparently never been implemented for purposes of: “[D]etermin[ing] the potential for increased residential densities,” regarding the land involved with YRI’s project.
___ Initial Reaction From Planning Staff ___
Yet, the city is processing YRI’s project application, as if such essential and perhaps pivotal implementation had already occurred.
City planning staff (available for comment) state that the Urban Limit Line Ordinance would be applied to YRI’s project, at some later time, perhaps during the planning-commission level of consideration.
City planning staff indicate, as well, that: No form or substance of imperative, analytically oriented material currently exists, for the purpose of examining and approving YRI’s revised project, in terms of its compliance with the Urban Limit Line law.
YRI’s project file demonstrates this absence of relevant material, confirmed by city staff. Clearly, no attention has yet been given, nor action taken, with respect to implementing the Urban Limit Line law regarding the Prudler Subdivision.
City planning staff explain that there is no moratorium on project applications during preparation of the new General Plan, and YRI’s project is being processed in a way that could easily result in its moving forward in advance of adoption of the new General Plan (early 2015).
___ What Legally Triggers Implementation? ___
In YRI’s case, residential density was significantly reduced in the eventual, revised project, from 246 to 204 lots / housing units.
Seemingly, this aspect of project revision should at least have raised, triggered the basic question of how and when the Urban Limit Line law would be applied to YRI’s project.
As noted above, YRI and the city reached a tentative deal on the Prudler Subdivision in August, 2011, proposing 180 housing units, more than a 25% reduction in density; while the Urban Limit Line law requires a planning “reevaluation” toward higher densities.
Diversity of housing is a basic purpose of the Urban Limit Line Ordinance.
But — until Yolo Sun made recent inquiry into this subject, no mention of this law even appears, within public planning discourse upon this project or within this project’s planning file or legal profile.
Yet starkly, as stated above, the August, 2011, letter by Phillips (attorney for YRI) to Deven pleads that: “Making the proposed revision to the project and supporting documents will require the expenditure of significant funds to complete. Prior to initiating this effort we would like to confirm that the City is in accord with respect to the revised project[.]” (Emphasis added.)
Consideration of residential densities, etc., — as a formal matter under the Urban Limit Line law — is fundamentally required – as well as being clearly and logically prior to revising and re-designing a particularly relevant development (subdivision) project and having the city circulate it per planning processes.
Potential for jeopardy / injury to project applicants from tardy implementation of the Urban Limit Line law, is obviously a very strong argument for ensuring that development projects receive a timely and reliable examination, “reevaluation [and] determin[ation].”
While the city may argue that (technically) nothing unlawful has occurred in its development process for the Prudler Subdivision, and that proper Urban Limit Line law implementation is somehow yet to occur – the only responsible legal interpretation of this circumstance is: Implementation is unlawfully tardy.
Developmental “expenditures,” mentioned by Phillips, were obviously premature until relevant implementation of the Urban Limit Line Ordinance, but have seemingly occurred as a result of an informal and improper determination within Woodland City Hall / City Council, to apparently and unlawfully wave such implementation — until someone discovers and insists.