Penn Valley opposes zoning changes
November 4, 2013
More than 200 Penn Valley residents showed up to the Seventh Day Adventist Church this week to express concern regarding proposed zoning changes to the Nevada County General Plan that residents fear could alter the pastoral character of the community, inhibit economic growth and place a higher burden on public services.
"The system is flawed and, in some regards, illegal," said Penn Valley Chamber of Commerce Board President Mike Mastrodonato.
"It's created in some ivory tower office for a place they don't even know exists."
Mastrodonato is referring to a state-mandated program that requires counties to rezone a certain percentage of vacant land to allow for high-density residential development — a minimum of 16 units per acre.
“The system is flawed and, in some regards, illegal. It’s created in some ivory tower office for a place they don’t even know exists.”
Penn Valley Chamber of Commerce Board President
Nevada County officials have long held the state policy does not work for rural counties looking to preserve their rustic heritage, but was tailored to urban areas of California such as Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
"It is frustrating for a rural county to be forced to meet all these different requirements," said Nevada County Supervisor Hank Weston, who represents Penn Valley, in the May meeting of the board of supervisors.
Members of Tuesday night's standing-room only crowd that congregated in Penn Valley agreed.
"They are just plopping these kind of developments down in a rural area when they belong in a metropolitan area," said Penn Valley resident Ed James, who is also on the chamber board.
To comply with the policy, the county must rezone enough acreage to accommodate 1,270 residential units, requiring the identification of at least 80 acres of land to rezone, said Nevada County Planner Tyler Barrington.
The county has selected 18 sites — nine in the Grass Valley sphere of influence, five in proximity to Lake of the Pines and four near Penn Valley.
The state-mandated policy runs contrary to the Nevada County General Plan, which attempts to minimize high-density development in the unincorporated areas as a means of preserving the rural character of the county, James said.
"That's why people move to Penn Valley," James said. "We came from more populous areas of the state and we like the quiet, the lack of traffic. The people are friendly and we enjoy the pastoral setting that runs contrary to 16 units per acre of residential."
Grass Valley, Nevada City and Truckee all have their own respective mandated requirements, so Barrington and staff must locate properties in unincorporated areas of the county.
During a May meeting of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Richard Anderson told officials with the California Department of Housing and Community Development that high-density development belongs in city centers — and to allow high-density development in outlying areas creates sprawl.
"To upzone lands out of the urban core is counter-intuitive," Anderson said.
While the county remains reluctant to implement the state law, many of the grants it receives to conduct economic studies and perform infrastructure projects are contingent on compliance.
Both James and Mastrodonato acknowledge the county is in an unenviable position of implementing a law that policymakers believe runs contrary to common sense, but wonder why Penn Valley must shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden.
"It's countywide mandate, but Penn Valley has to accept like 42 percent out of the whole county," James said. "That doesn't make sense."
James said a policy instituted by the supervisors, which stated planning officials could only change the zoning if property owners were amenable is to blame.
"The policy sounds nice, but ultimately it eliminates sites that are better suited," James said.
"There is nothing close to Truckee, nothing close to Nevada City and a couple of Grass Valley sites were dropped."
A site analysis conducted by the county lists properties in proximity to Grass Valley as the eight most suitable sites, with three sites in Penn Valley occupying spots nine through 11.
Mastrodonato bemoaned the fact that the proposed changes are being made to properties that are currently zoned commercial, meaning the program will impinge on economic development.
"There is an opportunity to build businesses and jobs and it takes these properties out of the equation," he said.
The commercial components of the zoning will not be abandoned, Barrington said; instead, the residential zoning will be added to existing regulations.
The zoning is designed to foster mixed-use development that would combine residential and commercial elements, he said.
A low-income housing project in Penn Valley called Broken Oak has increased service demands for local law enforcement since its inception, James said.
Penn Valley has been limited by a substandard wastewater treatment plant for years, Mastrodonato said, casting doubt whether existing infrastructure could support high-density housing.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.
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