Guiding growth – Nevada County man heads Yuba County’s building boom
Descending to Marysville early each morning from his Nevada County home, Tim Snellings leaves behind pine trees, hills, and a community generally skeptical about growth.
He enters Yuba County, where the pending influx of thousands of people – and their houses, cars and attitudes – is welcomed, Snellings said.
“Yuba and Nevada counties are very different,” said Snellings, who has experience in the development realms of both.
After more than a decade with Nevada County’s development department, Snellings took the top spot in the Yuba County Community Development Department about 18 months ago.
Nevada County residents are generally wealthier and older, while Yuba County has grappled with double-digit unemployment despite its link to the Sacramento region, Snellings said.
Yuba County’s sleepy years are past. Rows of houses fly up along Highway 70 daily and thousands more are planned. In a recent e-mail, Snellings called the pace of development “VERY FAST.”
“This is the next (area of growth); it’s very exciting with all the new development,” Snellings said, pointing out the booms south and east of Sacramento. “I think that new growth brings lots of opportunities to bring new services.”
Currently home to about 70,000, Yuba County is poised to double by 2015, Snellings said.
“We’re building a couple of new cities down here at least,” Snellings said.
Snellings likens his current position to a real-life game of SimCity, which, for those who haven’t embraced reality gaming, is a computer game that allows the player to plop houses, roads, parks and people across a nearly blank screen.
“The challenge is … planning infrastructure to keep up with development,” Snellings said, pointing to a large county map hanging on the wall of his office.
Yuba County’s approach is to encourage development south of Marysville, leaving the northeast of the county for custom houses on five-plus acre lots, Snellings said.
Besides the 5,000-residence Yuba Highlands development east of Beale Air Force Base and the hundreds of nearby acres slated for low density development, the bulk of the growth will occur in the valley.
The 5,200-acre Plumas Lake area along the border with Sacramento County, 1,760 acres in East Linda, and the 1,300-acre North Arboga region are all slated for development.
The Highway 65 corridor is also poised for change. A casino and a bypass around Wheatland are proposed.
“You can see it’s a very exciting place right now,” Snellings said.
Snellings stresses the importance of educating the public.
Nearly every document, plan and meeting, including some audio recordings, are available at http://www2.co.yuba.ca.us/yubacomdev/ on the department’s oft-updated Web site.
Department staffers are eager to explain the jargon-laden requirements of environmental studies and other planning processes.
Learning the process “calms fears and suspicions,” Snellings said.
Once the steps are clarified, the trick is ensuring top-notch projects are built, Snellings said.
“I think it’s incumbent (on community leaders) to press that development be of a high quality and to create the kind of community we all want to live in,” he said.
Snellings says he’s keen on mixing businesses and residences, encouraging dense development around cities and promoting walking, just a few of the tenets of “smart growth.”
But he said he shies from the term because it’s been overused.
“Smart growth doesn’t mean anything any more. What’s the opposite of smart growth? Dumb growth – that’s inflammatory,” Snellings said.
Snellings is keeping mum on the county’s view of the Yuba Highlands project, which lacks many of the key elements of “smart growth.”
He also isn’t divulging his county of choice, or disclosing whether he plans to purchase a piece of Yuba County’s boom.
“I have a lot of love for Nevada County and the folks who live there, as well as Yuba County,” Snellings said.
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