Thursday, 30 May 2024

Mendocino College enters escrow on property for new Lake Center

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Mendocino College has entered into escrow to purchase a 14-acre parcel on Merritt Road in Kelseyville, which the college is proposing to use as the site of its new Lake Center. Photo by Caitlin Andrus.

 

KELSEYVILLE – With its eye on building a new center to serve local students, Mendocino College has entered escrow on a 14-acre parcel slated to be the future home of its Lake Center, but the plans may face some challenges.


On June 3, the Mendocino College Board of Trustees approved entering into escrow to buy the land, owned by Kelseyville farmer Greg Hanson, according to Mike Adams, the college's director of facility services and a county resident.


The property is located in the 3300 block of Merritt Road in close proximity to the new Kelseyville Lumber home center.


The college will pay the agreed-upon price of $770,000 from proceeds of Measure W, a facility improvement bond measure voters approved Nov. 7, 2006, Adams said.


Measure W authorizes $67.5 million in bond funds for upgrades to college facilities in Ukiah as well as new centers in Willits – where property also is currently being purchased – and Lake County, according to the college's quarterly bond report, issued in March.


Originally, the Measure W budget called for spending $15 million on the Lake Center, but that has since been reduced to $7.5 million, of which more than $132,000 had been spent as of March on items including surveys, legal fees and consultant services.


The choice of the Kelseyville site over Lakeport surprised city officials, who carried on a steady campaign to keep the center there. The college's current county center is located in rented buildings at 1005 Parallel Drive in Lakeport.


Lakeport Redevelopment Agency Director Richard Knoll said it was a “big disappointment” that the college wouldn't be making its home in the more centralized location of Lakeport, where services are readily available.


He said the city made no secret about wanting to keep the college there, suggesting several potential locations – some of them similar to the nearly two dozen sites now being scrutinized for a new county courthouse location.


“I think that Lakeport is the place for the college and I think that more of an effort, frankly, should have been put into trying to find a site here that worked for them,” Knoll told Lake County News on Wednesday.


The plan also has caused concern for the Lake County Farm Bureau and Sierra Club Lake Group, who are concerned that the property is zoned for agriculture.


“We're going to fight this one root and branch,” Sierra Club Lake Group Chair Victoria Brandon said. “Quite aside from the assault on ag land, we think community colleges belong in communities, in locations serviced by public transit and bike lanes and where amenities ranging from restaurants to concerts – essential adjuncts to education – are readily available.”


The college began looking in Kelseyville after its favored choice, a 31-acre parcel located at 2565 Parallel Drive in the newly annexed part of Lakeport, fell through at the start of this year, Adams said.


Tom Adamson, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based developer who bought the land in 2005, had previously proposed building a 130-lot subdivision on the site, as Lake County News has reported.


Adams said the college had looked at the property for almost two years, and spent a year actively working with Adamson on a purchase proposal.


However, the property's appraised value came in at $1.53 million, well under Adamson's $2.9 million asking price, said Adams.


“The property owners wanted more for the property than we were willing to pay, and we weren't willing to exercise eminent domain to acquire it,” Adams said.


Settling on a new location


Adams said college officials had a long list of other possible sites in Lakeport, as well as several in Kelseyville, they also had been looking at during that time. With the Parallel Drive site off the table, they began looking at those other locations.


Knoll said the college told the city they wanted a fairly large parcel, on the order of the Adamson property. He said the city proposed the Indian Prayer Hill/Campbell Hill area, as well as south of Lakeport Boulevard, and west of S. Main Street and Highway 29.


“They posed a couple of possibilities, but some of them didn't have any roads going to them,” said Adams.


Adams said college officials didn't think they could find a site in Lakeport to meet their needs, so they began looking more closely at Kelseyville for a site no smaller than 10 acres.


They had to be mindful of regulatory matters dealing with seismic issues, soils, being outside of a two-mile radius of the airport, highway access and turn lanes, and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements that the topography not be too steep, he explained.


Availability of water and sewer services also was important; Adams noted that water and sewer lines extend to the site.


“Visibility was an issue that was important to us,” he added.


The Merritt Road property they ultimately chose wasn't on the market at the time.


Hanson, whose family has been farming in the county for several generations, heard that the college was looking for property, and he thought his land might be perfectly suited for the campus.


Purchased by Hanson in 1991, the land currently is a Sauvignon Blanc vineyard. He plans to continue farming grapes, walnuts and pears on another 52-acre parcel he owns.


Adams and Hanson, who are friends, took a Lake County Farm Bureau board member's invitation and attended the group's regularly scheduled meeting on June 10 to give them an update on the plan.


Farm Bureau Executive Director Chuck March said the item wasn't on the agenda so there was very little discussion.


“The board was pretty much caught off guard on it,” he said.


March said the Farm Bureau board will have it on their July 8 agenda.


Under their current policy, they're definitely opposed to the college building the campus on agriculturally zoned land, and will evaluate the process for lodging formal complaints, said March.


The Farm Bureau had opposed the Kelseyville Lumber project in 2003 due to concerns about encroachment into ag lands and the lack of buffers.


Brandon said the Sierra Club looks forward to working closely with the Farm Bureau and Lake County Agricultural Commissioner Steve Hajik “in sinking this very bad idea.”


Planning, studies still ahead


Just what the college facility might look like, and how large it will be, are still to be determined, said Adams.


He and Mark Rawitsch, the Lake Center's dean of instruction, attended a Wednesday meeting to discuss concepts for the property.


Adams said they hope in a few months to have conceptual drawings of what the campus might look like and how it will fit into its environment.


There's a lengthy due diligence process for the college to complete, he said, as well as the possibility of a full environmental impact report and other California Environmental Quality Act documents due to the agricultural location.


The proposed campus property will need to be annexed by Lake County Special Districts for sewer and water services, and that process would go through the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO), Adams said.


The approval process in some other ways will be notably different from that encountered by most projects.


For one, the college isn't subject to zoning rules, and if the Farm Bureau wanted to oppose the project, its concerns would have to be lodged with LAFCO, said Adams.


Knoll explained that state law contains a provision allowing the college board of trustees to vote to override local zoning laws. “That's a political decision,” he said.


It becomes more of a political issue, Knoll suggested, to build a facility on a vineyard in a county that prides itself on its wine production.


Adams and Rawitsch said it will be a few years before anything is done on the land.


“We currently don't have a state match, and there may not be one coming any time soon,” Rawitsch said of funding for the project.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

 

 

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Another view of the Merritt Road property, currently owned by Kelseyville farmer Greg Hanson, where Mendocino College officials hope to build their new Lake Center. Photo by Caitlin Andrus.
 

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