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Growth forum grabs attention

Concerned about growth, western Nevada County residents packed into the Nevada City United Methodist Church Wednesday evening, seeking information.

Information aplenty they got, along with opinions and insight.

Panelists for the growth discussion were:



• Nevada County Supervisor Peter Van Zant

• Nevada County Planning Commission Chairman Kurt Lorenz




• Land-use planner and developer Brian Bisnett

• Grass Valley City Councilman Steve Enos

They discussed the four major developments proposed around Grass Valley, traffic jams, state growth requirements and the need for affordable housing.

Despite the uproar that preceded the forum – revolving around whether Grass Valley Community Development Director Joe Heckel should take part – speakers largely remained calm and the audience listened quietly.

Organizer Jim Bair and moderator Jim Perkins began the evening by emphasizing that the forum’s goal was to inform and encourage community involvement, continuing a long tradition at the Nevada City United Methodist Church, once the place of worship for Aaron and Ellen Sargent, early advocates for women’s voting rights.

“This is not, contrary to what you may have believed, a political rally,” Perkins said.

All speakers urged members of the public to get involved with the planning process.

Lorenz spoke from the prospective of a man who underestimated his position on the planning commissioner.

Now, he said, he realizes the challenge of planning for a county on a project-by-project basis. And he’s been faced with the “paradox of affordable housing versus growth.”

Say no to growth to preserve the quality of life everyone loves, he said, and the price of housing skyrockets, a Catch-22 of sorts.

While serving on the Planning Commission, Lorenz said, he’s also been tuned into the “big sleeper in the county.” Growth comes not just from the major projects that make headlines, but also from the subdividing that happens throughout the year.

“The possibility of having the county carved into many tiny ranchettes is very real,” Lorenz said.

Next up was Bisnett, who called himself a “die-hard, tree-hugging environmentalist.” As the sole representative of the development community on the panel, Bisnett primarily spoke about his proposed development, Kenny Ranch, which he described as a genuinely smart growth project. It would offer a range of house types, commercial and retail spaces within biking distance to Grass Valley, Bisnett said.

He challenged the community to pressure developers to ensure projects are well designed, but also to allow projects to be built in a timely manner.

“Do we have the ability to say yes to projects that we think are good?” Bisnett asked rhetorically.

From his knowledge of the city’s workings, Enos likened the four major developments – Kenny Rnch, Loma Rica Ranch, SouthHill Village and North Star – to a game of musical chairs, where each developer wants to have a chair when the music stops. He emphasized the importance of community involvement.

“Speak from the heart; people will listen,” Enos said. “You truly can make a difference.”


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