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Community turns out to tour proposed convent site

Concerns arise over traffic and land impact; others happy with project
By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist recently welcomed more than 100 people to the site of their proposed convent. The Loomis planning commission held a workshop on April 2 at the 40-acre property, located at the corner of Rocklin and Barton roads. The purpose was for town officials to view the proposed footprint of the project and to visually see how tall the bell tower would be. According to Sister Mary Samuel Handwerker, the Dominican sisters wear traditional habits and became known as the “Oprah sisters” after two appearances on the popular daytime television show. Handwerker is in charge of the Loomis project and told workshop attendees the Regina Caeli Priory is planned to be a 134,000-square-foot, mission-style convent. Handwerker said 77 sisters will live at the convent and an additional 30 will be out at other locations and will return for holidays. The residential agricultural zoning allows an organizational facility such, as a monastery, by conditional use permit, but a variance will be needed for the 55-foot bell-tower. Handwerker said the bells would sound at noon and 6 p.m., but will only be loud enough for the sisters to hear. Planning commissioner Pat Miller said she had concerns about trees, natural features and wildlife on the property. Janet Thew, commission chairwoman, said she is concerned about the project because religious institutions do not pay property taxes. Handwerker said the order would give back to the community in ways other than property taxes. “Our work is our prayer and we educate children. We are in prayer five times a day and that prayer is for each of you and the community,” Handwerker said. Nancy Lucas, of Citrus Heights, said she was pleased the sisters want to build in the area. “They pray for everybody, not just for Catholics. They pray for the community – the world,” Lucas said. Cathi Fisher, of Loomis, owns a home neighboring the project and she said the convent would be “absolutely gorgeous” and she loved that it was in an area where other churches are located. “This would be a blessing for the community – people praying for you, what could be better,” Fisher said. Bill Branch, of Loomis, asked during the workshop what the justification to the public was for a “multi-family housing, apartment-like” project. Developer John Griffin, who is volunteering to assist the sisters on the project, called the convent “fairly low impact” because only 20 percent of the property would be developed and the remaining 80 percent would remain undisturbed. Jeff Pawlowski, architect for the convent, estimated if the property were subdivided into eight lots, then only 46 percent of the site would remain undisturbed. Nancy Beck, of Loomis, who chairs the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Committee, attended the workshop and said she wanted to “make sure they preserve the open space and the wetlands are protected.” She said she was also concerned about traffic circulation. Alex Leon lives in Saint Francis Woods, the gated community next to the convent site. “I think it’s a great use for the property. It’s very compatible with the area, it has a low profile from the street and they’re going to preserve the rural setting. We couldn’t ask for better neighbors,” Leon said. According to town manager Perry Beck, at their April 12 meeting the Loomis town council is expected to approve the appointment of an environmental consultant for the project to conduct traffic, noise and wetlands studies. The sisters have requested a conditional use permit, design review, a variance for the height of the bell tower, and a parking waiver to reduce the amount of parking required. Handwerker said the sisters do not have their own vehicles and when they travel they go in groups in vans.