Express Investigates: Documents outline potential plan for annexation, development

Email records obtained by the Express reveal potential plans for nearly 800 acres of land on the outskirts of Winters.
A map provided to City of Winters officials by Bellevue North show areas slated for annexation and development as part of a draft specific plan submitted in January 2019. The map, one of four obtained by the Express through a public records request, has not previously been made public. Photo: Bellevue North/City of Winters
A map provided to City of Winters officials by Bellevue North show areas slated for annexation and development as part of a draft specific plan submitted in January 2019. The map, one of four obtained by the Express through a public records request, has not previously been made public. Photo: Bellevue North/City of Winters

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Jeffrey Roberts. The draft proposal was sent by Roberts to Donlevy on Monday, Jan. 18 following discussions between city officials and Bellevue North over potential plans for the affected land. Last week, Donlevy acknowledged the two sides had been holding discussions for several months in anticipation of a possible submission from Bellevue North, though he said the developer had not yet submitted anything specifically to the city. Draft Development Plan In the draft proposal submitted in January, Bellevue North said it and two other property owners had agreed on a “comprehensive planning process” that would impact approximately 793 acres of land in the northern area of Winters. Of that land, Bellevue North owns 663 acres; Winters Estates, LLC owns 80 acres and JBT Properties owns 50 acres. Some of the land proposed for development is currently used by Bellevue North and other property owners for agriculture. To offset the conversation of that land for development of residential structures, the draft proposes converting around 480 acres of open space in areas around the proposed development into new agriculture land. The draft assumes Winters officials will expand the city limit through the annexation of 270 acres of land, with the rest already falling within the city’s boundaries or inside the “sphere of influence” as defined by the city’s general plan. The draft also outlines a number of specific objectives the three owners of the land have agreed on in terms of development, including the construction of homes that could accommodate an additional 7,500 residents; offering land to the City of Winters that could be used for educational and other public service facilities; and installing distribution systems and mechanisms that would allow recycled water to be used in public green spaces. DOCUMENT: Read the draft proposal sent by Bellevue North in January Bellevue North said it plans to work with several local and state agencies, including city and county officials, the Yolo County Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCO), California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Yolo County Irrigation District during the “design, processing and review” of their specific plan. It also says it will work with a yet-to-be-formed city Citizens Advisory Committee; it was not clear who will form that committee, who will be on  it, what role it will play and if the group was the idea of the developer or city officials. And the company plans to work with city officials on environmental issues, saying it believes the conversation of farm land into land for urban use will satisfy certain local, county and state environmental regulations and requirements. The company said the additional conversion of 480 acres around its proposed development would be protected agriculture land through a “conservation easement,” a voluntary agreement in which a private owner agrees to certain protections that limit use of that land. General Plan update Records obtained by the Express show the current issue of development and annexation has been on the table since at least September 2017 when city officials created a “preliminary workplan” to refresh the city’s general plan. The documents show the city planned to assemble an annexation and general plan update team consisting of City Manager Donlevy, Finance Director Shelly Gunby, City Attorney Ethan Walsh, City Project Manager Heidi Tschudin, City Planner Dave Dowswell, a number of city engineers and other officials both named and unnamed. A second team consisting of Hostetler and Roberts would work with the city-assembled team on the annexation and general plan update, the documents revealed. City council officials and planning commission members were not listed on the city team, but the plan did include “checking in” with the city council and unspecified members of the community as part of its overall objectives. The workplan involved preparing and executing a funding agreement with the developer, creating a budget outline of expenses, holding a meeting with affected property owners, developing a public involvement process and holding community workshops, among other things. It also called for coordinating with Yolo County LAFCO on annexation issues and developing a tax sharing agreement with county officials. The workplan was included as an attachment in an email dated March 13 sent by Donlevy to Roberts two months after Bellevue North submitted its draft proposal to city officials — a submission Donlevy said was unsolicited but one that Roberts claimed in emails was the fruit of discussions between the two sides. DOCUMENT: Read the March 13 letter and 2017 annexation and development workplan Donlevy’s response said the city understood Bellevue North intended to “submit an application for a specific plan” as well as a possible application that requested the city expand its sphere of influence in its general plan to include other property owned by Bellevue North. Donlevy asked Bellevue North to submit a letter outlining the developer’s proposals, intents and goals, review the workplan created in 2017, and submit an anticipated timeline of events. Donlevy wrote those submissions were needed “in the furtherance of both transparency and in order to move the process forward.” Transparency The existence of the March 13 letter was revealed by two city council members during a study session on the city’s land use provision of the general plan at a city council meeting three weeks ago. During that meeting, Council Members Pierre Neu and Jesse Loren said they were upset by a key portion of the letter that said a city resolution adopted in 2001 requiring council review of development outside the city’s sphere of influence did not apply when it came to Bellevue North’s potential development plans. Council members felt that decision — reached after Donlevy consulted with City Attorney Walsh —  created an environment of opaqueness at City Hall that effectively shut them out of the decision making process. But Donlevy countered the decision over the resolution was not intended to prevent city council members from having a voice in the process. He said the workplan created in 2017 showed city officials intended for the council and other community members to have an active role as development plans moved forward. RELATED STORY: Records show city, developer quietly swapped working plans, draft reports City council members were also invited to one-on-one discussions with Donlevy and Roberts in which maps were shown that outlined potential annexation and development plans. Those maps have never been published by city officials, though they were given to the Express last Friday as part of the newspaper’s public records request. The city also did not send council members the draft proposal from Bellevue North that was given to Donlevy in January. One council member who spoke to the Express on background said they located a copy of the draft proposal in their box at City Hall a few days after Donlevy provided the same records to the newspaper; they said they had not previously seen the draft proposal before the Express asked about it. DOCUMENT: View the draft development/annexation maps submitted by Bellevue North On Monday, Donlevy said the city remained committed to transparency but added that it did not make much sense for officials to provide a play-by-play before official plans are submitted to the city because things change. “Until something is officially submitted which can then be distributed to the public, it is just premature to begin floating concepts out to the public because it them becomes a matter of credibility on what we are telling people,” Donlevy wrote in an email. “If we tell people that someone is going to submit a basketball [court] then they submit a football [field], some will feel that they have been mislead which is unfair to all parties.” In other words, if the city says one thing is going to happen, and then something else happens, the city’s credibility could be damaged. While the emails show the city and Bellevue North are moving forward with many aspects of the draft proposal submitted in January, one email records a possible setback that could complicate some of those proposed plans. Changes Earlier this month, JBT Properties contacted Bellevue North to see if it was interested in purchasing its 50 acres of land earmarked for development through the consortium, according to emails obtained by the Express. David Corry, a representative of JBT Properties, said an unidentified family who owned some of the land wanted to sell it, which was forcing all parties involved in the 50 acres to sell before the development plans were finalized. “Do you guys have any interest in buying the neighboring 50 acres or should we market the property to other developers?” Corry asked Bellevue North on April 2. Bellevue North representative Roberts replied the company was not interested “unless there are some long terms” as well as a contingency that the acquisition was subject to annexation. “Unfortunately not willing to wait,” Corry replied, saying one family wanted out of the plans “so everyone must now sell.” JBT Properties President Matt Dobbins later told Bellevue North the company intended to sell the 50 acres for around $2 million. Dobbins said the valuation of around $40,000 an acre was “on the higher end of current ag value, but not out of line” considering future development plans. He asked to be contacted if Bellevue North decided to change its mind. Representatives from JBT Properties and Bellevue North did not return email inquiries from the Express seeking comment by press time. DOCUMENT: Read the April 2 emails between JBT Properties and Bellevue North Roberts forwarded the conversation between JBT Properties and Bellevue North to City Manager Donlevy on April 3, saying he forgot to mention the proposed selloff in an earlier message. But he downplayed concerns that one consortium participant’s desire to sell its property would have much of an impact on the consortium’s overall effort to annex and develop the land. “I don’t know how this will affect the ultimate plan for the property,” Roberts wrote, “but it shouldn’t hold up anything now for us.”

Update: Shortly after this story was filed for our print edition, City Manager John Donlevy emailed the Express with a note outlining a new page on the city’s website where certain documents related to the north Winters area planning were slated to be made public. The web portal went live Tuesday afternoon. ]]>

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Previously-undisclosed records obtained by the Express reveal a cordial relationship between city officials and a large property owner on the outskirts of town ahead of a potential annexation and development filing. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express

Express Investigates: Records show city, developer quietly swapped working plans, draft reports

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