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Timberline opponents now taking case to state Appeals Court

County counsel sees no merit in stance that have already been rejected by Placer supes, Superior Court judge
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Opponents of Placer County approvals for a controversial Timberline mixed-use development in North Auburn are now taking their case to the state Appeals Court in Sacramento.

The Ad-hoc Committee to Save Our North Auburn Quality of Life is in the initial appeals process and Davis attorney John Gabrielli predicted Friday that it would take probably a year before a decision is reached by a panel of three judges.

The North Auburn group’s objections center around whether the developer of the 858-unit project should be allowed to cut trees on 86 of the property’s 119 acres without some assurances that the project will be completed.

The developer – Western Care Construction Company of Rocklin – issued a statement Monday saying that the business has always been responsible with development plans and plans to move forward with a project desired by the community and needed for a growing population.

In a decision last summer, visiting judge Leslie C. Nichols of Mountain View ruled against the Ad-Hoc Committee and in favor of approvals granted in 2011 by the Placer County Planning Commission. That decision was also appealed but the county-level appeal was rejected by the Placer County Board of Supervisors – throwing it into a court fight.

Karin Schwab, Placer County deputy county counsel, said that Gabrielli filed the appeal in October after the Aug. 14 Superior Court judgment. It will be heard in the Third District Court of Appeal and both sides are just starting the process of designating the record from the lower-court case, she said.

“We don’t believe the appeal has any merit and the trial court reached a very fair and detailed decision,” Schwab said. “We believe the decision will stand on appeal.”

Sacramento attorney Tina Thomas, one of the original authors of the “Guide to the California Environmental Quality Act,” was unavailable for comment. She is representing developer Western Care Construction of Rocklin. She has said the environmental approvals granted the project were conclusive.

Gabrielli called the appeal’s veracity “clear-cut” and one that he hopes the three-judge panel will accept.

“Cutting down the trees raises the value of the property but deprives the community of a resource,” he said.

Among the concerns of the North Auburn Timberline opponents is that Martin Harmon, president of Western Care, could leave the project site denuded of trees if the business doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to complete the development. Gabrielli said this week that a search by the Justice Department two years ago of Horizon West Healthcare offices – a business Harmon has since sold – is one indicator of potential financial instability or legal problems ahead.

While Harmon has declined to discuss details of the Justice Department search on advice of a lawyer, the business has previously issued a statement that “there is no connection of any kind between the Timberline project and the Justice Department investigation.

On Monday, Western Care addressed the question of whether the property would soon be deforested.

“With the project broken down in phases, we are currently focused on Phase One of the project,” Western Care stated. “A very minimal amount of trees will be affected in Phase One. There are no plans to cut down trees unnecessarily, until needed and required for development purposes.”

The plan, Western Care adds, is to “only cut down trees that are required to as the phases start to develop.”

“There are no plans to cut down trees on portions of the property that are not scheduled to be developed,” Western Care states. “We plan to preserve the site as best as we can. Our plan is to work alongside the county and do what is best for the Auburn community.”

 The proposed development includes a continuing care retirement community and commercial office complex on land across Bell Road from the county’s Government Center. A total of 780 of the 858 units in the development are to be for seniors. There will be 78 residential lofts with no age restrictions on the top floors of the office and commercial complex.

“The company has always been responsible with development plans and this project is no different,” Western Care states. “We truly believe that this development will only bring positive influences to the local community. Promoting the Auburn area as a growing region that is ready to serve its faithful residents, plus additional jobs to the local region that in hand will also promote and bring business to the local community.”