Sprague development saga: Methodist pastor calls out city manager on senior housing
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror
Willows – Catch-22.
That was the word used by city councilman Vince Holvik Tuesday to describe a now-resolved situation faced in going forward on developer Forrest Sprague’s still-conceptual project in north Willows.
Along with supportive local pastors and real estate figures, Mr. Sprague dominated an ad-hoc meeting, arguing that the city is being overly obstructionist towards the development and getting Mr. Holvik, mayor Jim Yoder, and city manager Steve Holsinger to give some ground.
He browbeat the members at times, expressing hope that he could go out for a beer with Mr. Holsinger after one vehement exchange.
After more than an hour and a half of tangled debate and dialogue by the four men, Willows United Methodist pastor Janna Adamson sorted out the three main issues under consideration:
* The city staff’s attitudes toward development and the council’s responsibility to give staff direction.
* The merits of Mr. Sprague’s particular proposal.
* And the need for local senior housing.
Then, she went after Mr. Holsinger on number three.
“When a city planner responds (to a developer) by saying that there’s no need for senior housing, I have a problem with that,” she said.
She pointed again to Mr. Holsinger’s remarks when councilman Jim Yoder asked why, if the demand was so high, no one had stepped in to build senior housing.
“You asked why nothing has been done,” she said. “That’s why.”
Mr. Holsinger had told a developer, through planner Karen Mantele, that there was no demand for senior housing, new senior moderate- and above-moderate-income housing in the area, citing a statement in a 2005 report planning until 2008.
Mr. Sprague responded by reading the next paragraph, which stated that there was a demand for low-income senior housing, and that the growth of the senior population was causing a demand boom.
Right now, he said, 80 to 120 are people looking for senior housing in the Willows area.
The number was based on the 42-person waiting list at JFK-Eskaton Manor and a study, conducted by Ms. Adamson and the Willows Ministerial Association, that identified 50 potential clients now living out-of-county.
“I was just visiting a 90-year-old man who has friends here,” Ms. Adamson said.
The man, a member of her congregation, is no longer independent after a broken leg, but he doesn’t want to move to Chico for assisted living.
“That’s who (a project) will help,” she said. “That’s the benefit.”
Mr. Holsinger stood by his argument.
“I don’t think that those numbers are out of date,” he said afterwards. “I think they’re good through 2008.”
On point two, Mr. Sprague’s particular proposal, Mr. Holvik identified a Catch-22.
Though Mr. Sprague identified other positive features of a project like area flood control and a small park, he couldn’t put it in dollars and cents, to compare against annexation costs.
“We should have a documented list of benefits before considering annexation,” Mr. Holsinger argued. “Bring in a consultant.”
“Am I willing to go through hydro studies?” Mr. Sprague asked, estimating upfront, unrecoverable costs in the high thousands of dollars.
Answering his own question: “not without some assurance” that the city will seriously consider annexation.
Still, Mr. Sprague went to sleep happy Tuesday night; at a meeting later, members of the city council and planning commission agreed to consider an annexation policy on May 13.
“That takes away my catch-22,” Mr. Sprague said afterwards. “I’ll know that I can expect to spend X thousands of dollars to get this far in the approval process.”
The meeting of the ad hoc committee marked an expansion of the city council’s role in monitoring the ongoing dispute.
In response to Mr. Sprague’s complaints about the city impeding development, mayor Yoder argued that this forum had been created to address the problem.
“How do you know you’re doing the wrong thing” if citizens don’t pipe up, asked mayor Yoder. “You have to hear the public to figure out what they want.”
“I should not have had to bring this issue to this height of public awareness,” Mr. Sprague replied.
“I’ve been accused of being many things,” he added. “Bashful is not one of them.”
Another point of contention was over a list of land parcels compiled by the city and designated until 2008 as the areas outside of which certain types of development like Mr. Sprague’s project should not occur outside of.
Mr. Sprague’s parcel of land was not on that list, which Mr. Holsinger and Mr. Holvik used to argue that annexation and subsequent development should be frowned upon.
Mr. Sprague replied by saying that only two of the 24 parcels on the list were somewhat suitable; of those, one was too small and the other improperly zoned.
“There is no other parcel available,” he said.
Moreover, the list had been approved by and could, Mr. Sprague implied, be amended or ignored by the city council, especially because it was “outdated.”
“We’re almost halfway through 2008,” he said.
Mr. Holsinger stood by his argument there too.
“If the housing element of the state of California says, you have adequate space (inside city boundaries) to build facilities, then I think our first obligation is to build on the sites,” he said afterwards.
Then he took a jab at Mr. Sprague.
“Granted, if I’m not the owner of one of these sites, I don’t want to hear that.”
Glenn County Title’s Rick Thomas drew laughs when noting that all plans must pass through the stage Mr. Sprague’s project is now in.
“Twenty-five years ago, my wife came to me and said, ‘I want to start a family,’” he recalled. “That’s conceptual.”