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Growth limit law passes first round

Just how big can historic Nevada City become?

It may only be able to grow by 35 dwellings a year after initial approval of an ordinance Monday by the City Council. A final approval vote could take place Feb. 10.

At issue is a proposal to construct 34-plus co-housing units on 11 acres on Broad Street within the city limits. The Cohousing Co. of Berkeley plans to exceed the 35-unit proposed limitation because it would have additional units on seven surrounding lots of the main development, thus going over the limit.



The sale of the lots would raise cash for the co-housing development, all in an effort to keep each unit in the $200,000 to $400,000 range, project representatives say.

To be able to sell the lots, however, the company needs to be able to present a master plan for the entire project – for the 34 co-housing units as well as for the seven lots – all of which could have second units, they also say.




Co-housing residents live in independent units around a common area.

“I think it will have dire financial repercussions on the project,” architect Charles Durrett said Tuesday of the ordinance. Several people who had hoped to move into the co-housing project will not be able to afford it, said Durrett, who estimates each unit will now cost $23,000 more per house.

Nevada City council members dealt with another growth issue Monday night,

introducing two other ordinances.

The first would require all new subdivisions of three or more lots to include one house smaller than 1,500 square feet. The second ordinance would require that 20 percent of all new subdivisions have a second unit.

The council voted 4-1 for the 35-unit limit.

Proponents, including Planning Commission Chairwoman Laurie Oberholtzer, said the goal is to approve projects in scale with the city. The city will always consider good projects, the proponents of the ordinance stressed.

“Our intent is to recognize a good project when we see one,” Mayor David McKay said before the vote.

City Councilman Steve Cottrell, however, voted against the majority.

The burden will be on the applicant to prove that the project provides a compelling public benefit, Cottrell said Tuesday. Cottrell wanted to change the ordinance to allow people to apply – not construct – larger projects every given year.

“I voted against the amendment because it’s nothing but a bureaucratic warm fuzzy,” he said.

More than two dozen people, wearing red “Find a WIN WIN solution” tags, said the proposed new rule would jeopardize their ability to move into a co-housing project planned on 11 acres off West Broad Street.

Several people who had hoped to move into the cohousing project will not be able to afford it, said Durrett, who estimates each unit will cost $23,000 more per house.

Allan Haley, an attorney who spoke on his own behalf Monday, called the 35-unit limit “arbitrary.” Arbitrary government creates dissension and creates legal problems, he told the City Council.

During a break before the vote, Gary Johnson of Nevada City said he supports the ordinance because a 80-unit apartment complex could have been built behind his house. (That proposal was defeated in 2001 after a bitter debate.)

At the same time, he supports the co-housing project, he said, “because they would be wonderful neighbors.”

In other action:

— Tree service owner Eldon Cyrus proposed to have Nevada City amend its tree ordinances to allow people to cut ponderosa pine trees within 150 feet of a house. Cottrell – a member of the tree committee – said he will meet with Cyrus to discuss the matter.

— The City Council also approved 3-0 an ordinance to ban glass containers from the streets at special events. McKay and Cottrell abstained because they have done work for the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors most downtown events.

Vote on 35 dwelling limit:

Kerry Arnett – Yes

Tom Balch – Yes

Steve Cottrell – No

David McKay – Yes

Conley Weaver – Yes


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