Stone Mill Center

The construction site for the Stone Mill Center at the intersection of Parrotts Ferry Road and Highway 49 as seen from Parrotts Ferry Road on Jan. 8.

A proposed agreement with the developers of the approved Stone Mill Center commercial development near Highway 49 and Parrotts Ferry Road, known as the Pedro Wye intersection, will be back on the agenda for the Tuolumne Utilities District Board of Directors to consider at a public meeting on Tuesday.

The proposed agreement for TUD to provide water and sewer service for the project, located on three commercial parcels at Parrotts Ferry and Union Hill roads between Sonora and Columbia, was originally slated to be considered by the TUD board at a meeting in early September that was cancelled due to an anticipated Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power shut off.

Ed Pattison, general manager for TUD, said later in September after the agreement wasn’t put on the agenda for the subsequent meeting that the developers RC Equities, LLC, and DG Investors, LLC, had requested more time to pull additional information together.

Pattison said in an interview on Friday it was also discovered that the board previously wouldn’t have been able to consider the project anyway, because three out of its five members at the time would have to recuse themselves due to conflicts of interest.

“I’ve never seen and people at the FPPC (California Fair Political Practices Commission) had never seen three board members conflict out,” he said.

Former TUD Director Ron Kopf announced before the previously scheduled September meeting that he would recuse himself because he had worked as a consultant for the developers while they were going through the process of getting land-use approvals from the county.

Pattison said TUD Director Jeff Kerns will also have to recuse himself because he owns Yosemite Title Co. in Sonora, along with TUD Director Barbara Balen because she has publicly voiced opposition to the project during the land-use approval process.

Kerns and Balen both remain on the board, though Kopf was voted off in the Nov. 3 election, which will leave Tuesday’s decision to TUD Directors Ron Ringen, Lisa Murphy and David Boatright.  

The developers could just pay connection fees and hook into the existing water and sewer mains adjacent to the parcels without seeking an agreement, but Pattison said they are looking to construct additional feet of pipeline through the parcels that would serve a fire hydrant and create a looping system.

An agreement is required when the developer seeks to construct additional water and sewer pipeline because it must meet all of TUD’s standards.

“They wanted to run water lines through their property with a fire hydrant, which is a benefit to them, a benefit to their community and benefit to TUD. Anytime a developer wants to put in a fire hydrant, we welcome that,” Pattison said, adding that looping systems are also better for water flow and capacity.

Pattison said the district is legally obligated to provide water and sewer service to the project if it has available capacity to do so, which he stated that it does. 

A staff report stated that the impacts to TUD’s water supply as a result of the project would be negligible at between 1 to 2 acre-feet per year. The document stated the district diverts about 17,000 acre-feet per year from the South Fork Stanislaus River, less than in the late 1970s despite a larger population thanks to efficiency improvements.

The report also said the cumulative impact from development over the past six years has also been less than significant, largely due to a net decrease in demand last year of 67.7 acre-feet from disconnections equaling 274 single-family residences. From 2014 to 2019, there was an average of just over two disconnections per year.

Pattison attributed the large decrease last year to a number of raw-water users, each of which equal up to about 30 single-family residences, choosing to disconnect after five years of rate increases starting in 2015.

“Some of the raw water users weren’t really using the water, it was just kind of a luxury,” he said. “I think now that they’re having to pay it, they are saying maybe, ‘I don’t need six miner’s inches, maybe I only need two, or disconnect completely.’ “ 

The Stone Mill Center, which will feature three buildings totaling 16,000 square feet of commercial space, was approved by the county in 2017 despite opposition from some in the area. A lawsuit seeking to overturn the approval was struck down by a visiting judge in Tuolumne County Superior Court later that year.

Grading work at the site finally got underway late last year.

Gary Simning, one of the principal partners of RC Equities and DG Investors, told The Union Democrat in November that the original plans for an Adventist Health Sonora urgent-care clinic at the center fell through due in part to the delay in development caused by the lawsuit. He said there were no other tenants committed at the time.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 768-5175.