Steven Snowden’s project is tiny – a simple proposal to carve three lots out of 19.8 acres in a residential neighborhood in Murphys. But the fact that Calaveras County supervisors on Tuesday gave Snowden the green light to apply for his subdivision map is historic.
That’s because Snow-den’s request to create two 5-acre lots and a 9.8-acre remainder on Vineyard Terrace Court about a mile east of downtown Murphys runs afoul of Policy 07-242.
Policy 07-242 has been an irritant to developers, builders and some business interests since it was approved in 2007. The policy was intended to temporarily rein in rural sprawl by preventing the creation of small lots in the county’s far-flung ranch lands and forests while county officials revised the General Plan that guides where and how growth can happen.
At the time, county planning officials were overwhelmed by dozens of subdivision proposals. And it appeared to supervisors that those proposals could overwhelm county efforts to plan for orderly growth.
So supervisors put the brakes on to give planners a chance to catch up to reality on the ground and come up with a realistic and legally defensible General Plan. The Board of Supervisors approved Policy 07-242, which temporarily banned creation of lots smaller than 40 acres except when those lots meet certain conditions, such as having adequate roads and being served by municipal water and sewer systems.
A year later, however, the real estate crash hit. And the fact that Policy 07-242 had delayed or disrupted some real estate dreams felt more bitter as an era of comparatively easy opportunity ended.
Still, whatever breathing room Policy 07-242 created didn’t seem to help the General Plan update process. Planning directors and General Plan consultants came and went over the past eight years, and current projections are that the General Plan may be done some time in 2016.
Planning Director Peter Maurer for several months has been saying a draft of the plan is only a month away. Tuesday he told supervisors he hopes to have that draft out by next week.
Meanwhile, Maurer asked the Board of Supervisors to consider Snowden’s case. The original policy gives supervisors the power to review individual cases and grant exceptions.
Under Policy 07-242, Maurer could not act alone to approve Snowden’s application. Snowden is nowhere near any public sewer or water lines, and his lots would be far smaller than 40 acres.
Yet Snowden’s land is currently zoned for 5-acre residential lots, and he’s been working since the early 1990s to improve the road to his property and prepare it for subdivision, he said.
“I had it rezoned in 1994 with the intention of rezoning it into 5-acre parcels,” he said. “I have two wells on my property right now. They have good yield.”
Supervisor Merita Callaway, whose district includes Snowden’s property, said she supports allowing Snowden to proceed and noted that the parcel map application process will still require him to mitigate for any impacts he has on the surrounding neighborhood.
The board voted unanimously to support Callaway’s motion to grant Snowden the exception to Policy 07-242. Various government watchdogs present in the audience erupted in applause.
In other business Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors:
• Voted unanimously in closed session to appoint Megan Stedtfeld as Calaveras County Counsel. Board Chairwoman Ponte announced the decision at the start of the meeting’s public session. Stedtfeld will begin her new role on Dec. 27. County Administrative Officer Shirley Ryan said that supervisors did not discuss compensation during the closed-door meeting when they appointed Stedtfeld. However, the base salary for county counsel is currently $143,020. Stedtfeld has been serving as interim county counsel since the retirement of previous County Counsel Janis Elliott in June.
• Voted unanimously to correct a clerical error in an ordinance adopted in 2013 that would have resulted in an incorrect pay raise for the supervisors this coming Jan. 1. Supervisors are supposed to get the same cost-of-living adjustment as other county employees on Jan. 1, a 4 percent boost. But staff recently discovered that the 2013 ordinance incorrectly said 2.5 percent.
• Voted unanimously to sell a quarter-acre lot at 3637 Signal Hill Trail in Copperopolis for $2,212.04 in delinquent taxes and penalties to Habitat for Humanity. Under California law, nonprofit entities that provide housing can purchase properties that might otherwise go to auction for delinquent taxes. Habitat for Humanity is a sweat-equity program under which low-income families contribute labor and receive assistance to build homes.
• Voted unanimously to allow the Sheriff’s Office to spend up to $126,750 in the current fiscal year to buy food for inmates at the jail. Capt. Ed Ballard reported that so far this year, the jail had served 46,155 meals at an average cost of $1.35 per meal.
“They are eating a lot of peanut butter sandwiches,” Ballard said.