Grass Valley forgot that big development is all in the timing: “know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em”

Dorsey-driveMany people understand Grass Valley’s dilemma, with shopping dollars leaking off the hill. They understand the need for the Buxton Report to help with the process. They also understand the need for the Dorsey Drive Interchange, 25 years in the making.

Unfortunately, Grass Valley’s efforts to build retail have run into stiff opposition lately because the focus has abruptly shifted to new Dorsey Drive development and the long-simmering Loma Rica housing project — long a sore spot with the community on many levels. And it came before the Dorsey Drive Interchange was even completed — or celebrated, with a quicker ride to the hospital or Sierra College.

The community didn’t start this debate — it just reacted to it. The city, developer and whoever else was involved need to own the responsibility for the timing of a Community Development Review.

Years ago, many people supported the original Loma Rica Ranch project under the Getty Trust and Phil Carville, because it was generally well-conceived, walkable, livable and had some low-impact retail. The city and community missed a real opportunity, because of political infighting, personality conflicts and a legacy of ill-will.

Since then, Loma Rica has turned into another mundane, typical housing project. It has sparked real controversy, too, such as Grass Valley’s lawsuit against the Airport Commission (since dropped). The project has lost a lot of the original support. It is practically “jinxed.”

The community development review for a proposed “lifestyle center” at the Dorsey Drive Interchange, which has been percolating for years,  showed a real misunderstanding about our community’s sentiment.

Many small, local businesses are still struggling from the Great Recession. The trust between politicians and their constituents, nationally, statewide and locally, is at an all-time low. If that wasn’t enough, a controversial gold mine is being proposed for The Ridge at the same time as the Dorsey shopping center.

Rather than digging in its heels and getting defensive about Dorsey Drive and the proposed “lifestyle center” there, the city should “fold ’em,” at least for now, and focus on another project, such as the annexation of the Berriman Ranch and the old Bear River Mill sites, which straddle Highway 49 along the southern border.

The 121-acre project has big-box and retail potential. It has local involvement and is less of a political “hot button.”

Grass Valley also should take a cue from the Lake Tahoe basin. Long a hotbed of “no-growth” mindset, the basin has managed to win approval to two good projects recently: renovating a casino property on the North Shore with “green” building and the JMA expansion at Homewood Mountain Resort.

Grass Valley has yet to understand that opposition to growth comes in varying degrees, and they need to find the middle ground with the community. They also need to accept responsibility for their own role in “stirring the pot.” We could probably use some “new blood” in the dialogue too.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

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