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Controversy erupted at a community meeting this week over a proposal to bring a new 3-story medical office building to the existing Citrus Heights city hall location, and move the hall to Antelope Drive.
In a full room of about 200 people, public comments from the audience were largely critical or skeptical of the proposal, although Board Chairman Evan Jacobs from the Citrus Heights Chamber of Commerce announced the Chamber had recently taken a unanimous vote in support of the proposal.
The meeting was the sixth in a series of evening sessions designed by the City to inform the community about the proposal and invite feedback from residents — and during the evening’s four separate Q&A times, many residents expressed concern over building size, construction noise, traffic, location choice and cost.
Event Facilitator Wendy Hoyt sought to keep the meeting moderated and on schedule, but audience members shouted accusations of “cutting off” speakers when she tried to close comments while a few hands were still up in the room.
“Many assumptions have been made in the financial scenarios made by the City-hired consultant,” said Joan Bippus, during one of the evening’s question times. “There are still too many unanswered questions for these proposals to be accepted as gospel.”
The 40-year resident also said the 68,000 square feet medical building would not be in keeping with the City’s General Plan, which lists a community development goal of “Preserv[ing] the unique character of Citrus Heights” and its “small-town attributes.”
City Manager Henry Tingle responded to some of the concerns by calling the Dignity Health medical building proposal a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” where the City could get an $18.9 million new hall for an estimated net cost of about $5 million — primarily due to income from leasing land for the medical building, as well as projected energy and repair savings coming from a new city hall.
Built in the 70’s and previously used by a nursery, the City has said the existing hall buildings are in need of major repairs and upgrades. Additionally, City officials have emphasized that the current city hall was always considered to be a temporary solution when the City first incorporated in 1997.
If the City were to reject the Dignity Health proposal, it estimates a cost of $11.9 million to provide “necessary improvements” to the existing hall structures, although it had previously reported a lower repair and upgrade cost of $5.5 million earlier this year.
Reacting to the cost estimates, one resident called the numbers presented by the City “a shell game.”
“They only give the information they want to give,” said Susan Howell, who also lives nearby the proposed medical office building location. She also expressed concern about construction noise, and adding more traffic to an already-busy Greenback Lane.
Presenters from both the City and Dignity Health sought to calm tensions by calling the proposal a “win-win” for everyone involved, saying the new medical office building would help serve Citrus Heights’ aging residents, bring in jobs, help pay for a new city hall and boost business in the Antelope Road area.
A packet handed out to attendees also included a list of ways Dignity Health had responded to community input at past meetings, including decreasing the size of the building by 25 percent, adding more trees, and agreeing to retain most of the existing palm trees.
Varying reactions to the proposal have also been seen across the city.
Notably, both of the neighborhood associations representing residents around the Antelope Road and Fountain Square sites have avoided taking a position on the proposal, citing conflicting opinions of residents and unknown impacts.
The City acknowledged there are still unknowns about the proposal, with environmental and traffic impacts among those brought up and currently being studied.
Environmental unknowns will be reviewed, and findings will be released for public review in June, followed by a final decision on the proposal in July by the council, according to Citrus Heights Planning Manager Colleen McDuffee. She added that a final decision date is tentative, as it is dependent on environmental review findings.
A full traffic report is also expected to be available in June by Fehr & Peers, but a representative from the company said it was already “clear” that a new traffic light would have to be installed if city hall were moved to the proposed 7625 Antelope Rd. location.
The agenda for the evening also allowed for an “open house” one-on-one opportunity at the end, and Hoyt made it clear to attendees that city staff and architects wouldn’t be leaving until everyone had an opportunity to ask questions and get answers. Conversations continued until about 9 p.m., well after the main session was scheduled to close at 8:20 p.m.
Although the April 30 event was the final community meeting, residents will still have an opportunity to voice their opinion when the planning commission and city council take up the issue this summer.
The City welcomes questions and comments about the proposal via email at [email protected], or by phone at (916) 725-2448.
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