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No fears of housing density among planning officials

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

By the numbers

As of June 11

Number of COVID-19 cases: 50

Number tested: 3,815

Number in western county: 12

Number in eastern county: 38

Number of active cases: 5

Number of recoveries: 44

Number of deaths: 1

Learn more at http://www.theunion.com/coronavirus

Countryside homes have recently been rebranded as safe getaways, farther from the reaches of cities where COVID-19 infections have spread at high rates in part because of their density.

Cities have long been viewed among scholars as carrying a higher health risk, and as such have been referred to in public health spaces as maintaining an “urban penalty.”

But concern about problems associated with housing density have not changed any of the current housing projects being built or in the pipeline to be constructed in Nevada County, according to county Planning Director Brian Foss.

“There hasn’t been really any discussion of that within our county at this time,” said Foss. “The county is very rural anyway. I don’t think there’s going to be a major change in the density levels in our county due to (our) rural nature.”

Over 95% of the land within the incorporated county is zoned for residential development with a minimum of 1.5 acres or larger, and the majority of that zoning includes development on five acres or more, said Foss.

Still, the planning director acknowledged that, due to newfound fears of spreading infection, density may draw concern from residents, and that could change the design of certain projects — specifically concerning low-income apartment complexes. In the future, additional dwelling units may be placed further from homes, said Foss, and apartment buildings may have multiple entrances or staircases to allow for physical distancing. Ultimately, the topic will likely warrant further conversation in the future, he said. For now, the concept of building up instead of out is still conventional wisdom.

Nevada City Planner Amy Wolfson agreed that none of the city’s housing development plans, which were established in 2019 prior to the pandemic, are prone to change due to fears of density. Any changes to their plans, she said in an email, would require certification by the California Department of Housing and Community Development agency.

Grass Valley Community Development Director Tom Last said housing density has not been brought up as an issue among any residents in the community and is not much of a concern for the area considering its rural nature.

While it’s true that cities are riskier contagions for COVID-19 and other pandemics, rural areas are no longer safeguarded from the spread of infection in a world where transportation via cars, planes and other vehicles are able to carry materials, and possibly pathogens, in a very short period of time. That is, viruses today have the ability to reach the countryside and semi-rural areas much quicker than they did a century ago.

And while it’s also true that density has played a role in the spread of COVID-19, a recent Harvard Political Review article demonstrated that deaths due to COVID-19 may have much more to do with socioeconomic status — which is strongly correlated with health outcomes — than population density.


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To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.

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