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County vs. County Over Oak Canyon Ranch

Tuolumne County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to sue Calaveras County for approving Oak Canyon Ranch without requiring the developer to help pay for road improvements on O´Byrnes Ferry Road.

Calaveras supervisors Monday accepted an environmental impact statement on the project to build 2,275 homes and 704 townhouses on 3,251 acres near Copperopolis despite impacts the EIR states cannot be mitigated. Among those is the effect of adding 8,719 vehicle trips per day to O´Byrnes Ferry Road when the project is completed.

Failing to mitigate an identified environmental impact under the California Environmental Quality Act violates the law, Tuolumne County officials argue.

Calaveras Supervisor Tom Tryon counters that commercial stores in Tuolumne County draw a lot of Calaveras County residents but Tuolumne County didn´t give anything for the impact of traffic on roads here. “I would rather just keep the two jurisdictions separate,” Tryon said.

Calaveras Supervisor Merita Callaway, who was alone in voting against the Oak Canyon Ranch project Monday, disagreed, saying the board should look at these types of items on a regional basis.

Tuolumne County Supervisor Richard H. Pland, Tuolumne Public Works Director Peter Rei and Beverly Shane, Tuolumne´s Community Development Department director, attended the Calaveras board meeting Monday.

Tuesday they reported back to their board in a closed session, and after hearing Calaveras didn´t make any changes to mitigation measures and went on to certify the environmental document, Tuolumne County´s board voted 5-0 to sue Calaveras, Tuolumne County Supervisor Mark Thornton said.

“There was no road map as to how they were going to address mitigation,” Thornton said.

His colleague, Pland, agreed.

“We do feel we have a valid issue regarding O´Byrnes Ferry Road, particularly the intersection with Highway 120, and we were hoping mutually we could work to solve it,” Pland said.

Calaveras County Counsel Spencer “Skip” Batchelder said, “We´ll have to take a look at that pleading. Normally we don´t comment on anticipated or existing litigation.”

Batchelder said he´s not aware of any similar cases in the state but he will certainly be looking.

Oak Canyon developer Maury Froman said he called Pland to ask who to work with toward solutions, left a message, but had not heard back.

Caltrans representative Lynn O´Connor also attended Monday´s meeting and urged supervisors to deny the project until traffic issues are resolved.

“Caltrans will need to be part of the solution,” developer Froman said.

Froman was “delighted” after receiving approval from supervisors to build the largest housing development ever in Calaveras County.

“We´ve been processing the project ourselves for four-and-a-half years,” he said. “We´re delighted to finally have achieved this step.”

Although it´s a major step, Froman said, it´s just another step in the progress of the project.

Archeological studies, sewer and water designs and tentative maps are the next step.

The requirements determined by archeological studies will control when the tentative maps will be submitted to the county, he said, adding, “We would love to be doing that within the next few months.”

That would put the project on track for grading to begin in April 2005 and building homes to begin in the spring of 2006.

The first occupancy of houses could take place at the end of 2006, Froman said.

“As the market permits, we´ll build as many houses as we feel we can sell. Our goal is to build 150 to 200 homes a year,” Froman said.

The first phase of the project is 250 homes, an 18-hole golf course, and part of the resort, which includes 103 resort/lodge rooms.

Subsequent phases will be continually processed as the market and economy permit, Froman said. The first phase of the resort is still up in the air.

“We´re talking to resort operators and developers as well as golf course developers,” Froman said.

In April, David Nairne, a project principal, said Canyon Ranch Spa, out of Tucson, Ariz., is interested in the project.

At its five resort locations in Arizona, Canyon Ranch Spa offers “spa services, fitness and outdoor sports, medical and behavioral services and consultations, nutrition consultations and workshops, spiritual pursuits and healthy gourmet cuisine,” according to its Web site.

Froman planned to talk with representatives from Canyon Ranch Spa this week.

Others who have expressed interest are hotels and timeshares. Since it´s an ordinance, the project´s development agreement will return for final consideration Jan. 5.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Vanessa Turner. For more Calaveras news, click:calaverasenterprise.com