Court rules against development in Martis Valley
A California superior court tentatively ruled Thursday that the Martis Valley Community Plan near the Nevada-Placer county line is illegal.
The decision could stop development in the Martis Valley near Truckee and send Placer County back to the drawing board.
The decision is the first action on the Martis Valley plan since it was sued by five environmental groups in January of last year. Placer County approved the plan that guides growth in the valley in December 2003.
The legal battle will likely head to the courtroom next for oral arguments, if requested by Placer County. After oral arguments, which officials say would take place in March, the judge would issue his formal judgment. That decision can be appealed to the state court of appeals and could ultimately be reviewed by the state supreme court if the court decides to take the case.
But the ruling Thursday was overwhelmingly in favor of the conservation groups that have battled Placer County and developers over the future of the 70-square-mile alpine valley. If the ruling is upheld it would ban projects already approved and future development in the valley until a new plan is created, said Rachel Hooper, attorney for the environmental groups.
In a 30-page initial decision, the court sided with environmental groups Sierra Watch of Nevada City, Mountain Area Preservation Foundation and their allies on every major disagreement they had with Placer County’s plan.
According to the ruling, Placer County underestimated the development allowed under the plan by nearly 10,000 residential units and 5 million square feet of commercial development.
The county’s decision not to use maximum densities in the community plan, but provide them in a separate zoning ordinance, sets up the possibility for future zoning amendments that would allow more growth than the community plan evaluated in its environmental review, the ruling said.
“The County left the door open to increases in both residential and commercial development in conformity with the (Martis Valley Community Plan), but beyond the scope of the development described in the (Environmental Impact Report),” read the ruling.
These discrepancies, the ruling said, “build in opportunities to create environmental mischief.”
For Sierra Watch, the ruling was rewarding, but Executive Director Tom Mooers cautioned that the outcome of the lawsuit could still change.
“The judge would have an opportunity to reverse himself,” said Mooers of the oral argument stage.
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