The Calaveras County Planning Commission on Thursday completed several months of work to revise land-use maps for the county General Plan. That means that the commission has substantially completed the final and most time-consuming part of its review of an updated General Plan.
Calaveras County Planning Director Peter Maurer said that he will revise the land-use map to reflect the commission’s direction and return it to the commission on Sept. 22 for formal approval.
After that, the General Plan, map and all, will go to the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors for its consideration. The move by the commission raises the prospect that the decade-long effort to revise the General Plan may finally be winding to a conclusion. County staff will still have to complete environmental impact studies and conduct an additional series of hearings before the plan can be adopted, possibly sometime in 2017.
For weeks, the commission heard requests by property owners and others to change land-use designations for particular properties. In some cases, the commissioners supported the requests. In other cases, they kept the designations recommended by Maurer.
The issues that dog the 1996 General Plan currently in effect continue to be apparent in the final weeks of discussions on the map for the updated plan. The biggest may be simply that the county has, according to Maurer, about five to seven times as many lots available for home construction as it will need over the next 20 years.
Because of that, Maurer had recommended that large swaths of the county, particularly in areas with poor roads, no water utilities and no sewers, be designated for “resource production.” Such a designation would set 40 acres as the minimum lot size and prevent the kind of rural ranchette development that, planners say, adds to leaky septic systems, poorly-maintained roads and fire-trap neighborhoods across the countryside.
In some cases, however, the proposed map had the resource production designation or the similar working lands designation – which allows 20-acre lots – in areas not far from existing communities. In those cases, the commission was more sympathetic to property-owner requests for changes.
On Thursday, for example, a majority of commissioners granted a request by property owner Nancy Whittle that 88.3 acres just north of Angels Camp have its designation changed from working lands to rural transition-B so that it would be possible to subdivide 5-acre lots.
“Going to 5-acre parcels, I think, keeps the rural character around the city,” said Commissioner Lisa Muetterties.
The only commission member to oppose Whittle’s request was Chairwoman Fawn McLaughlin who questioned the need for more lots. “This is not the last developable parcel in the area,” she said.
Lawrence Byrnes of Murphys, in contrast, did not persuade the commission to support his request to grant a designation that would have allowed him to split the 6.98-acre property where he lives on Highway 4 on the west side of town.
“You have two houses on that property already,” Muetterties said.
Muetterties and other commissioners said they were sorry they could not help Byrnes, but that it would be unfair to other property owners to allow smaller lots in a neighborhood where most parcels are now about 5 acres.
“When you put a second dwelling, that isn’t necessarily an avenue to a split,” said Commissioner Ted Allured.
Elsewhere, in places such as Burson and for properties close to O’Byrnes Ferry Road in Copperopolis, however, commissioners were sympathetic to property owners who asked that they be allowed to have land-use designations suitable to more intensive development. In general, commissioners were more likely to grant such requests when the properties were already surrounded by more intensive development and when they are within short distances of water and sewer utilities.
Still, Maurer has repeatedly warned that the plan has many more lots that are likely to be needed in coming decades given current growth projections. Maurer said that imbalance costs taxpayers by forcing the county to study the impacts of growth that will likely never happen and also weakens efforts to concentrate development where fire protection, utilities and other government services are available and efficient.