Seeking to spur development, Williams to spend $345,000 on Business Park EIR, Specific Plan

Last Wednesday, the Williams City Council voted unanimously to allow City Administrator Frank Kennedy to negotiate an agreement with Bisnett Design Associates, which will prepare the Specific Plan and Environmental Impact Review for the Valley Ranch Business Park, in an amount not to exceed $345,000.

The city did not go through a formal competitive bidding process for the project, citing an exemption in the city code that allows the city to award a contract without a competitive bidding process if the city administrator determines it is in the public’s best interest to do so. Kennedy explained during the meeting why he believed it was in the public’s best interest not to go out to bid.

“This is a situation where the Valley Ranch Business Park is not ready to build on,” Kennedy said. “…It’s virtually a rice field with a road going through it.”

Kennedy said that without an EIR or specific plan, many questions remain, including those regarding water, waste water, storm water runoff, and traffic.

“Everything has not been decided out there,” Kennedy said. “This is something that the property owner should have completed a couple of years ago. If they had, there would be building going on right now.”

Instead, all the city has is a road that was paid for by more than $5 million in taxpayer money, he said.

Currently, each developer looking to build in the Valley Ranch Business Park has to foot the bill for their own project-specific Environmental Impact Review. That process has proved unwieldy and inefficient, and has hampered new projects coming into the business park, Kennedy said.

“In a lot of cases, property owners would do this up front, and would divide cost by acreage and have the developers pay their share. But the cost of each doing their own EIR is cost prohibitive,” he said.

Following last Wednesday’s vote, the city plans to bear up-front cost of preparing an EIR and specific plan that encompasses the entire 300 acre business park. The goal is to spur development to occur at a quicker pace through a more streamlined approval process. Instead of each new developer having to go through the environmental review process, projects would simply need to undergo a review by the city’s planning commission before getting the green light to build under the over-arching EIR.

“Whether we like to think of it like this or not, the city is a partner with the property owners because of the public money we’ve invested in that road. We’re in that area of about $5 million of public money spent, and when you count on the staff time and resources it probably exceeds that,” Kennedy said.

The city will be reimbursed for the cost through development fees, which will be imposed as developers bring new projects to the business park. Kennedy noted that Canna-Hub, the commercial cannabis operation looking to build in the business park, had indicated it would pay for a significant portion of the EIR and specific plan up front. The council authorized Kennedy to negotiate an advance of funds agreement with Canna-Hub for that purpose.

For councilmember John Troughton, the $345,000 – while a large sum of money – is in fact money well-spent.

“I don’t like spending lots of money… (but) we can’t afford not to do this, as a matter of fact,” Troughton said. “We need to do this so we can escalate the development over there. This is probably the best investment we’ve ever made… We should do it to better this community.”

Council adopts ordinance creating cannabis overlay zone

Up for second reading and adoption, the city council unanimously passed and adopted an ordinance that will create a “cannabis overlay zone” within the city limits, which will allow the establishment of commercial cannabis uses for the cultivation, manufacturing, transportation, distribution and testing of cannabis products.

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net