Planners with Nevada County hosted a workshop Tuesday night in an attempt to collect the opinions and ideas regarding the county’s plan to incrementally update the general plan.
The general plan is the framework for all growth, development and land use planning in the county, and past attempts to alter and refresh the foundational document have been fraught with bickering and controversy.
Thus far, the 2013 incarnation of the process has been comparatively timid as about six people showed up at the workshop meeting.
Planning Director Brian Foss said the county’s incremental approach could be contributing to the subdued reaction, as the first phase is more about policy changes or alterations to the guiding principles of the document, as opposed to substantive changes to any zoning designations.
Architect Charles Durrett, who designed the Rincon Del Rio project approved this summer by the board of supervisors, questioned whether planning staff was correct in asserting the current general plan is functioning properly.
“There is no growth in Nevada City, Grass Valley or Truckee,” he said. “It’s all happening in the rural areas, and it’s creating rural sprawl.”
Durrett labeled ostensibly rural areas of South County such as Alta Sierra “glorified suburbs” and said the trend makes public transportation infeasible and driving an automobile a necessity.
Suzanne Smith, who sits on the Planning Commission and formerly worked as a planner for the county, took exception to the characterization.
“I think the general plan works well,” she said. “It focuses development in town centers.”
Durrett said 67 percent of residents live in unincorporated areas.
“What worked in 1950 doesn’t work now,” he said, urging greater densification in town centers.
Durrett said the county needed to streamline the development application process, claiming developers have to shoulder the brunt of environmental review costs disproportionately.
“It cost Rincon Del Rio about a million bucks to go through the EIR,” Durret said.
“That project is the right thing, so how do we do the right thing without it costing a million bucks?”
Foss was quick to point out that not everybody feels similarly and said the overriding philosophy is that developers must pay their way through the rigorous process.
“Some may feel that if somebody wants to develop or subdivide land, the general taxpaying public should not pay for that person to profit from that endeavor,” Foss said.
Debate also centered around how to provide incentive for developers who use innovative land use techniques to accomplish goals and provide a public transportation plan for the region.
Foss expressed skepticism that the general plan update process was the appropriate place for public transportation initiatives.
“Policies can encourage or even mandate public transportation, but absent demand for it and ridership numbers, it just flat out won’t work,” he said.
However, Foss was receptive to providing incentives in the form of development credits or advanced timelines to developers that propose innovative land use projects.
The lack of sewer infrastructure continues to hinder growth, even in modest town centers such as North San Juan, Rough and Ready or Penn Valley.
One of the major policy amendments urges broadband infrastructure to accompany future development projects.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.