Suit thwarts Columbia apartments

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

A lawsuit may have stopped a controversial apartment complex in Columbia.

Representatives with Golden State Holdings and RC Equities, the developers behind what was supposed to be the 80-unit Stonewood Sonora apartments on Parrotts Ferry and Union Hill roads, are now asking county leaders to reverse approvals given in May that allowed the project to move forward.

In a letter sent to the county's legal counsel earlier this week, RC Equities managing member Gary Simning stated that the requests are due to the lawsuit filed in June over the project by Tuolumne County Citizens for Responsible Growth.

"The legal expense and time associated with pursuing judicial approval is a waste of time and money," Simning stated in the letter.

According to the county counsel's office, the two parties are expected to sign a settlement today that would bring an end to the lawsuit. Under the agreement, the developers would request the county rescind the project approvals and withdraw applications for the project.

The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider the request during Tuesday's regular meeting.

Citizens for Responsible Growth filed the lawsuit shortly after the Board of Supervisors approved a request for a special use and design review permit for the complex. The group claimed in the legal complaint that the project and county skirted state environmental laws when it allowed the complex to move forward without more thorough review.

They were asking the court to halt the project until the county or developers completed a full environmental review that they allege is required by the California Environmental Quality Act.

Impacts listed in court documents include traffic and transportation, increased population density, stress on local wildlife, potential problems with groundwater, and degradation of a culturally important site.

Lengthy and expensive, a full Environmental Impact Report would identify all of the potential impacts on the environment and account for how the developer could lessen or avoid those impacts.

According to the apartment complex proposal, the developer was looking to build six residential buildings, a clubhouse, pool, and covered and uncovered parking. The developer also had interest in a long-term plan to develop almost 20 acres nearby that would include retail stores, which is also mentioned in the lawsuit.

The complex was the subject of multiple lengthy meetings of the now-disbanded Columbia Area Planning Commission and the county Board of Supervisors, filling the meetings and causing intense debates between supporters and opponents.

The concerns listed in the lawsuit largely mirrored those of the opponents, while backers said it would fill a need for quality rental units and boost the local economy.

The planning commission rejected the proposal, and the developer appealed that decision to the county supervisors, who approved those requests in May, overturning the planning commission's decision.

The Union Democrat
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