Kenny Ranch was a special site: 330 acres, located on the Rough and Ready Highway at the western entrance into Grass Valley, on land slated for eventual annexation into the city limits. Grass Valley had zoned the property a “Special Development Area”, essentially inviting a proposal designed to meet the current and future needs of the City. The developers, in concert with Bisnett Design Associates, elected to take the City up on its challenge.
The Site (cont.):
Whatever design we brought forward would need to take into account the unique environment and resources of the property. A portion of the property was known as “Hell’s Half Acre”, a barren area capped by an ancient lava flow, with soils so shallow even annual grasses would not grow — but the wildflowers in spring were renown. Steep, forested slopes faced dramatic views to the north. A year-round stream and NID ditch-fed wetlands in the center of the property.
We knew going forward that traffic, the Achille’s heel for so many projects, would be a significant issue for Kenny Ranch. Rough and Ready Highway was already stop-and-go during rush hour, with school traffic backing up at the stop signs on Main Street. The intersection of Ridge Road, Adams Lane, and the Rough and Ready Highway formed a dangerous, oddly angled intersection in the center of the project.
Additionally, infrastructure was a concern. In particular, the sewage line from Grass Valley had not yet been extended from downtown to the property. However, after some consideration it was decided that these obstacles were surmountable and the project moved forward.
Studying the Site:
Before putting pencil to paper (or fingers to the keyboard) we began by studying the site, mapping the slopes, the soils, and the vegetation. We evaluated the amount of constraint each would pose on development, and overlaid our findings.
The Constraint Analysis:
The result was a “Constraint Analysis”, a tremendously useful graphic which ranked areas of the project area based on their suitability for development. This map would provide the foundation for the design work that followed.
We studied the traffic issues extensively, from the intersection with Ridge Road through downtown Grass Valley. We proposed a three-point solution:
- Providing a roundabout at the intersection of the Rough and Ready Highway with Ridge Road, that would provide smoother and safer traffic flow, and create an “entry statement” for traffic entering downtown from the west;
- Providing phased traffic signals at several of the problematic downtown intersections, which would serve to slow down speeding traffic during off-peak hours, and could be phased to prevent rush hour slowdowns; and,
- Decreasing the amount of business park and commercial land use from that specified by the city’s General Plan, and increasing residential density, which would reduce the amount of traffic generated by the project over 50%.
The Master Plan:
The end result of our effort was a Master Plan for the property that provided for:
- A wealth of public open space, including parks, plazas, trails and over 110 acres of permanently protected conservation area;
- A pedestrian-friendly village center with shopping and affordable apartments;
- An employment-generating business park;
- An affordable assisted living facility for seniors; and,
- A variety of housing, from small acreages to condominiums.
It was a Master Plan in which we took tremendous pride, a project we believed would be an asset to the Grass Valley community for years to come.
The Specific Plan:
Kenny Ranch was designed to be a special community, and as such it was never intended to fit within the narrow definitions of the Grass Valley zoning ordinance. We prepared a highly detailed “Specific Plan” to govern the development of Kenny Ranch, and ensure that as the project was built out it would meet the vision intended by the design team and approved by the decision-makers.
The Project Today:
Alas, it now appears this project will never be built. Concerns over traffic and the political vacillation of the City of Grass Valley over how to plan for the next decade of growth stalled the project, and the Great Recession provided the coup de grâce. The property has now been split up and sold, and the zoning changed from Special Development Area to large-acreage residential development, making a large, mixed-use project like Kenny Ranch virtually impossible to implement. As Grass Valley builds out to its borders, we fear the loss of this potential growth opportunity will prove to be a lamentable one.