A plan to add storage for recreational vehicles and boats on 15 acres of unused property at Rancho Murieta Airport made its debut at the Cosumnes Community Planning Advisory Council Wednesday evening. The council also heard a proposal intended to divide the historic Sloughhouse Inn property to help sell it and a request for a use permit authorizing the present scope of operations at the Davis Ranch produce stand.
The advisory body consists of volunteers who make recommendations about local planning issues and projects to Sacramento County Department of Planning and Community Development. Wednesday’s meeting lacked a quorum, but council members Frederick Hegge, the chair, and Evan K. Winn provided comments on the projects to planning department Senior Planner Jeff Gamel after the projects were discussed by an audience of about eight people.
The Rancho Murieta Airport proposal calls for a paved storage area with 133 spaces that will be fenced and screened from view. According to a drawing, one section of L-shaped storage area parallels a runway and the other is located behind an existing row of hangars.
Attorney Marcus Lo Duca of Lo Duca & Avdis made the presentation, saying he represented airport owner Brad Beer, who was out of town. Beer became the new owner of the airport this spring. Lo Duca described Beer as “an aviation enthusiast” who wants to make improvements at the airport and increase its “financial feasibility.”
Lo Duca said there is a “long waiting list in the Rancho Murieta Community for both RV and boat storage,” although he acknowledged under questioning from Winn that the community hadn’t been informed about the storage plan.
Lo Duca said safety issues have been considered and a letter sent to county planning about the plan included a California Transportation Division of Aeronautics letter “saying they had no issues with any safety standards at the airport.” There are vehicles stored at the airport now, and the proposed use is consistent with longstanding zoning and usage, Lo Duca said. Access to the proposed storage area will not interfere with airport operations, he added.
A woman in the audience commented, “I just wonder why they took the trees down on the lower side if they’re going to put storage closer to the runway than the trees were.” “The trees were actually encroaching into the flight zone,” responded project manager Michael T. Robertson of Baker-Williams Engineering Group. “The RV storage and the fencing are not even close to it. That’s why we had Caltrans take a look at it.”
Other audience members expressed concerns about RV propane tanks and fuel posing a fire risk. Robertson said Caltrans had considered that and “required a certain setback off the runway.”
The two council members expressed their approval for the project conditioned on a prohibition against providing propane or other fuel in the storage area. Gamel, the senior planner, cautioned that his office “has yet to make a determination whether this is permissible” and he would take the comments and suggestions back to the department to “help us in our determination.” If the use is found to be inconsistent, Gamel pointed out there is an appeal process as well as a process for amending the zoning ordinance.
Related: Planning document for proposal -- click enclosed file at end of story
Sloughhouse Inn looks for a buyer
“The Sloughhouse Inn has been in the Westerberg family for 150 years,” said Jim Prager as he began his presentation, representing the property owners. “The history of the Sloughhouse Inn is that Jared Sheldon had a house along the creek and people referred to the house as ‘the slough house.’ The name was then given to the first commercial building, a restaurant and bar, that was built, Prager said.
An historical marker placed by the California State Park Commission and the Native Daughters of the Golden West describes Sloughhouse as “a prominent hotel and stage station on the way to the Amador mines.” After it burned down in 1890, it was rebuilt the same year, according to the marker.
“The Sloughhouse Inn and the Sloughhouse Store remain from early days,” said Prager. A third structure, a blacksmith shop, lasted until the late 1950s or ‘60s. Rancher Jay Schneider and others in the audience remembered the blacksmith shop, and Schneider also recalled that the second floor of the inn was used for roller skating.
Prager said his brother-in-law, Mike Westerberg, along with his partners, ran Sloughhouse successfully as a restaurant from the early 1980s to about 2002. The restaurant operation was transferred to someone else at that time and, in 2006, the restaurant closed, Prager said.
The death of a family member in 2006 triggered a distribution of property, he said. Selling the commercial parcel became a way to settle the estate, “so that’s what we’ve been trying to do. ... We’d like very much to see the buildings preserved. We have no plans for any building or any change on the lot so we’re not here to talk about new buildings or grading or any of that.”
Prager is requesting that the 4.97-acre parcel be divided into three parcels to facilitate a sale and preserve the inn. “All we want to do is increase the chance that we can find buyers,” he told the group. “... Everyone’s interested in Sloughhouse Inn, no one’s interested in Sloughhouse Store or the vacant lot.”
Dividing the property would create “three historic parcels”: a 2.4-acre parcel would take in the inn and parking for the inn, the store would be 1.5 acres, and the vacant site of about an acre. The store and the inn each have septic systems, and the inn has a water system that serves both. The store has three tenants, and their businesses are successful, Prager said.
Prager said he worked with Sacramento County on a plan to preserve the site as “an amenity for the county.” The county’s deteriorating financial situation and the decline of the real estate market derailed an agreement to sell the property to the county for $2.7 million in 2007, he said.
The property is located along Jackson Road, in a flood-prone area next to Deer Creek.
Jeff Hunt, the owner of an adjacent property, said he had “two or three concerns” about the proposal. One was how it would affect access to his property and another was how the separate parcels would be used. “My concern would be a gas station or what’s coming in next,” Hunt said. “It’s our intention to impose a conservation, preservation easement on whoever we sell it to,” Prager replied. “... We do intend to impose those restrictions and they will be enforceable ...”
It was the vacant parcel that caused people the most concern. “Whatever you built on the third one, the likelihood of it being anywhere comparable to the other two that were built historically, there is no likelihood,” Schneider said. “It would have to be way elevated (due to flooding), all kinds of crazy things would have to be done. ... But ... anything that would make the restaurant more viable is going to be a positive thing in the community.”
The council members suggested making two parcels, not three, to address the limitations of the one-acre lot with no septic system. “I am more positive on two parcels than three, but I’d have to see them. ... I will follow this one,” Winn said.
Davis Ranch is making it official
A representative for Davis Ranch reassured the group no changes were being proposed for the produce stand on Jackson Road. Said Laura Kass, “There’s no new structures, there’s no development proposed. Basically they went in to get their business license and ... because now they’re selling more produce that’s being grown off-site during the winter months, it triggered the need for the special permit that we’re applying for. ... It’s basically to catch up the paperwork with what’s being done there.”
Kass was asked if Caltrans is still planning to put in a turn lane from Jackson Road for the produce stand. She replied that the project is still in the works and could happen sometime next year “but there’s no concrete plan. ... It’s been going back and forth for a while.”