Monday, June 04, 2007

Rockville Trails Estates

Rockville Trails Estates -- New Name, New Look, Same Old Opposition
By Barry Eberling

David Carroll stands on the property he is trying to develop as Rockville Trails Estates near Suisun and Green valleys. (Photo by Mike McCoy)

FAIRFIELD - Rockville Trails Estates seeks to be a greener, leaner version of the controversial White Wings Estates proposal that launched an early 1990s growth war - but it's neither green enough nor lean enough for its numerous opponents.

Gone are such ideas as a 27-hole golf course, shopping area and 600 homes for the 1,580 acres near Suisun and Green valleys. Instead, this new version calls for 370 homes, 810 acres of open space and public trails extending for several miles.

"That's the way I think it should be developed," property owner David Carroll said as he stood in front of an aerial photograph of the land inside his Rockville Corners office.

But some people still view Rockville Trails Estates as the type of development better suited to cities than the country. They see no room in rural Solano County for a project that requires its own wastewater treatment plant.

"The project will transform a majestic, undeveloped open space area to a built-up residential subdivision," said a letter to the county from attorneys representing the Green Valley Landowners Association.

The Solano County Planning Commission is to begin hearings on a study of the project's environmental impact on Thursday, with the issue eventually going to the county Board of Supervisors. The commission meets at 7 p.m. at the County Government Center, 675 Texas St.

Executive homes and trails

Rockville Trails Estates is to be located on the expanse between Fairfield's Rockville Hills Park and Twin Sisters mountain. This area is mostly grasslands sprinkled with oaks and consists of both hills and flat areas.

Carroll has worked on the project since he and partners bought the land in 1989. This latest proposal marries the community's desires with what is needed to have a good development, he said.

He envisions building the 370 homes on lots ranging from 1 acre to 20 acres. The homes would probably be custom or semi-custom, he said, adding that each lot is unique and the project doesn't lend itself to a cookie-cutter approach. These "executive homes" could cost perhaps in the $650,000 to $2 million range, he said.

The housing will benefit the county, attracting executives who in turn could bring their companies, he said. The county could get more than $8 million annually from taxes, he said.

About 810 acres is to be set aside as open space and owned by a homeowners association.

Then come those trails that are featured in the project's name. There are to be some eight miles of trails that will cost $2.5 million to construct, Carroll said. They are to be open to the public from dawn to dusk.

Carroll pointed out a short segment of Rockville Road running through a cut in the hillside, with sheer, rock walls of about 40 feet in height on either side. He can envision a bridge over this cut, though that's not part of his project. Hikers in Rockville Hills Park could then go to the Rockville Trails Estates trails without crossing the busy road.

Carroll expressed hope the Rockville Trail Estates trails would be eventually designated as part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which is to someday encircle the entire Bay Area.

One big change from previous proposals is dropping the golf course. Carroll himself is an avid golfer and has a small, automated putting tee inside his office at Rockville Corners. But the proposed golf course drew criticism from project opponents.

"We took that message to heart," Carroll said.

The new proposal also entails moving less than a third the dirt as the 1.5 million cubic yards in the 1990s proposals, Carroll said.

"We certainly think we've done what part of the community has asked us to do," Carroll said.

The opposition

But Carroll faces opposition from many of his neighbors in the valleys below and nearby hillsides.

The Green Valley Landowners Association has a long history of fighting planned developments that its members believe violate the area's rural character. It is using the San Francisco-based law firm Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger to represent it on Rockville Trails Estates matters.

"Currently, we're not satisfied with the project," association president Linda Seifert said.

Concerns range from increased traffic to the effects of Rockville Trails Estates wells on ground water supplies to whether the 810 acres supposedly set aside for open space could someday be developed, among other things.

Carroll has over the years said rural Green Valley already has homes, including those around the Green Valley Country Club golf course. Now he wants Rockville Trails Estates to join that community.

"I always say, it's about three times as large as Green Valley, with a third as many homes," Carroll said.

Linda Russum, who lives on Morrison Lane adjacent to the site, said development should take place within reasonable constraints. She doesn't believe Rockville Trails Estates meets that standard.

"It's an urban development proposed in a rural area, because of the density of the housing, how they clustered them," she said.

Treating sewage

A key issue in the Rockville Trails Estates battle is a proposed wastewater treatment plant.

Without such a plant, Carroll could still in theory build houses at the Rockville Trails Estates site. The county General Plan allows for zoning that could see 2.5-acre lots on much of the property and as many as 500 homes.

But topography would limit the number of homes. Plus, the homes would have to use septic tanks, a big limiting factor given the thin soils and volcanic bedrock.

Carroll said he's uncertain how many homes could be built using septic tanks. But using septic tanks means putting homes where the soils percolate, rather than making a design that is best for the development, he said.

"I think you should treat the wastewater to the highest level possible," Carroll said.

The treatment plant would be located near Rockville Road and made to look like a house. A collection system working mostly by gravity would take the sewage from homes to the plant, with 87 homes needing pumps.

Treated wastewater would be put on grassland and vineyard by means of an underground drip irrigation system. During the rainy season, when soils are saturated, it would be kept in four retention ponds until needed. Treated, solid sewage would be hauled to a dump.

Solano County during the 1990s rejected the old White Wings Estates in part because of the wastewater treatment plant proposal.

The county has typically required rural developments to use septic tanks. Doing so limits density in areas set aside for farming and moderate amounts of housing, the Planning Commission ruled in 1995 when turning down the White Wing proposal.

Maurice Koch lives on rural Morrison Lane next to the Rockville Trails Estates site. He has a number of concerns about the proposed wastewater treatment plant, among them that the dams holding pools of treated wastewater could break, causing the water to flood his property.

Perhaps most stinging, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board sent a Feb. 14 letter to the county. It repeatedly called the wastewater treatment plant plans as outlined in an environmental study "inadequate" and "unacceptable," citing a lack of details.

"I was shocked when I read that letter," Carroll said.

It appears the water board official didn't read all the documents, Carroll said, adding much of the information called for is in the appendices.

Carroll must satisfy the Regional Water Quality Control Board in the long run, should Solano County give land-use approvals for his project. The board must issue a permit for the wastewater treatment plant.

Developing this land has been an on-and-off issue for four decades. Past versions of the project have gone by such names as White Wing Estates, Sky Country and Stoneridge Estates.

Now comes Rockville Trails Estates, with a new name and a new look. Carroll pointed to a map of the project and showed the lot where he hopes to someday build a house and live.

The fate of his dreams - and the dreams of those who oppose the project - will soon be up to the Solano County Planning Commission and, ultimately, the Board of Supervisors.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at

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