After months of parsing through and modifying the land-use element of Calaveras County’s December 2014 draft general plan, the Planning Commission on Thursday unanimously agreed on a recommendation that emphasized property rights and economic development.
In particular, the language of the goals, policies and implementation measures presented in December 2014 was modified to emphasize the rights of property owners.
For instance, the 2014 draft listed as one of its goals: “A land-use pattern that maintains the open character of Calaveras County, sustains its natural resources, recognizes the physical constraints of the land and the availability of infrastructure and public services, and ensures the long-term viability of resource-based industries.”
The commission modified that goal to read: “A land-use pattern that allows those who own, operate or manage the productive resources in the county to maintain open space, wildlife habitat, agricultural lands, mineral resources and forests.”
Calaveras County Planning Director Peter Maurer said the new draft incorporated the concerns of residents brought up during the 90-day public-comment period that ended in mid-March.
“There were well over a thousand pages of public comments that I tried to incorporate into the next draft,” Maurer said.
A general plan guides the overall direction of growth and land use within a county. County officials have been trying for almost a decade to update the Calaveras County General Plan. The Land-use element is one of eight required to form a general plan.
Commissioners and members of the public in recent months have questioned how much involvement the county government should have in deciding land use and the amount of restrictions that could be placed on landowners’ desires to develop.
“Some of the draft policies were of guiding and directing growth towards existing communities, and while the community still feels development in communities is appropriate, the policies were modified somewhat to allow more development outside of those areas,” Maurer said.
Commissioners Kelly Wooster and David Tunno were also concerned about some of the implementation measures that would require the board of supervisors to pass ordinances, saying such measures could potentially lead to legal trouble down the road by being too specific and restricting future projects.
Tunno added that it would be better to plug in implementation measures required by the environmental analysis to be done on the plan after its completion instead of anticipating the steps to be taken.
Maurer said the implementation measures are tools that the county has to carry out the policies and goals in the General Plan.
Julie Moss-Lewis, deputy county counsel, said ultimately it is a policy call, but that it is risky to have a general plan that is either too vague or too specific.
Moss-Lewis said that there was little if any legal risk since there is no case law illustrating punitive measures taken against a county that required an ordinance in its general plan that was not adopted by the board of supervisors in a timely manner.
The Planning Department has also been working with consultants to ensure that the revised plan does not open up the county to legal troubles in the future.
Planning Commission Chairwoman Fawn McLaughlin said that the county has been promising residents a dark sky ordinance for years to no avail, so it was important to include it in the general plan to highlight that it is a priority for the county.
Maurer said there are two rival philosophies on planning, with one accommodating and the other restraining growth.
In the community, he said, there’s a contingent that resists growth in favor of protecting the natural environment while the other side favors letting people do what they want with their properties as long as they don’t impinge on their neighbors.
The planning commission moved some parts of the land-use element to other areas of the general plan where commissioners members felt they would be more appropriate.
The section on disadvantaged legacy communities was moved to the public facilities and services element. Community plan policies were also removed and will be included in the plan as separate, stand-alone elements, as directed by the board of supervisors.
A couple new sections were also added to the land-use element.
A background and setting section was added to address population and growth projections, land availability, distribution and land-use patterns and economic development. A land availability section was added to address information on the amount of vacant land.
The commission began working its way through the draft general plan on June 30 with a joint board of supervisors and planning commission meeting during which the board provided direction on how to proceed.
In addition to the land-use element, the commission has approved recommendations for a vision statement and noise element.
Maurer said these elements have been pushed back on the board of supervisors’ agenda since the Butte Fire broke out, but may be addressed as soon as the next board meeting.
The next element the commission will address is resource production.