Saturday, December 1, 2007

Calaveras Supervisors move to limit sprawl

It used to be that land use planning in Calaveras County was anything but smart. The county has been one of the fastest-growing in the state, with no constraints on the conversion of ranches and oak woodlands to golf courses and subdivisions, complete with overtapped groundwater and leaky septic systems. But it looks like those days may be over.

A few weeks ago, the Calaveras Board of Supervisors held a visioning session to establish a policy framework for the county's general plan update. It was most promising, with all five supervisors -- even Libertarian Tom Tryon -- agreeing that new development should occur in existing communities rather than sprawling all over the countryside. They even talked about incorporating the Ahwahnee Principles or the Land Use and Development Principles adopted by several Calaveras communities.

Then last week, the supervisors lifted the year-old subdivision moratorium put in place at the beginning of the plan update. But they didn't return to the bad old days of virtually unfettered growth.

Instead, they unanimously adopted policies to shape new development. The policies aren't binding -- the board will still look at each subdivision proposal -- but the clear message is "if you want us to approve your project, this is what it needs to be." The resolution even suggests to staff that they bring noncompliant applications to the board for an early decision rather than putting everyone through the time and expense of California Environmental Quality Act review.

The policies are intended to focus development in existing communities and limit sprawl. They express a clear preference for projects that
  • Create new parcels only in areas where public water and sewer are available (except for single parcels and parcels over 40 acres)
  • Protect onsite open space and habitat
  • Provide roads built to county standards
  • Promote affordable housing

And in the resolution language adopting the policies, the supervisors made clear they expect similar policies to be part of their general plan:

WHEREAS, during the October 23, 2007 workshop, the Board unanimously stated that the General Plan update, and in particular the Land Use Element of the General Plan, should include goals, policies and implementation measures regarding criteria for future development within the unincorporated area of Calaveras County that limits the use of groundwater and onsite septic systems to serve that development and should instead encourage high density development served by public surface water and public sewer with preservation of onsite open space as well as other associated infrastructure to serve the development such as roads built to county road standards;

Meanwhile, despite a moratorium on general plan and zoning changes, every month new well-and septic-dependent parcels are being created in rural Amador County, many in high fire zones. How smart is that?

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