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Hung up on housing issue

Jeopardizing precious federal grants and the fate of thousands of acres of county land, the supervisors are dug in, deadlocked two-two over a single paragraph of a largely technical housing plan.

“We’re nowhere near (a compromise), nor will we be,” said Supervisor Peter Van Zant in a recent meeting, summing up the feelings of the other supervisors.

The conflict stems from a state requirement that encourages dense residential development in 54 acres surrounding Nevada City and Grass Valley. To compensate for this dense development, Van Zant and Supervisor Barbara Green insist the zoning should be reduced – decreasing, but not preventing the possibility of development – in outlying areas.



“If we add folks over here, we should take them away over there,” Van Zant said. “(That’s) the essence of good planning … you develop a population cap and you stick to it.”

But supervisors Sue Horne and Robin Sutherland see no need to limit development elsewhere in response to the state’s requirement. Horne calls the proposed zoning change “very punitive.”




Van Zant and Green base their position on the county’s governing document, which sets a population cap of 150,000. Though no one believes the county will add 50,000 people overnight, Van Zant and Green want to ensure the potential for development aligns with the General Plan.

“Don’t mis-plan and overzone just because you’re not near 150,000,” Van Zant said.

Their battle isn’t new. In February, the board (which then included Supervisor Drew Bedwell), defeated an attempt by a local land-use group to ensure the housing plan wasn’t in conflict with the 150,000 population limit.

But as time ticks on the eight-month overdue housing plan, the supervisors will have to find a compromise or risk losing money for local nonprofits and affordable housing, as well as exposing the county to legal challenges.

Horne’s compromise – to approve the required acreage for dense residential development and delay the debate over population caps for the next General Plan revision – doesn’t sit well with the liberals, who would lose their bargaining chip.

And a compromise offered by Green and Van Zant didn’t get much further.

At a recent meeting, Green proposed compiling a list of properties that lack sewer lines, road access or have other limitations that would significantly complicate development and targeting them for the restricted zoning.

Sutherland shot back that the idea was “off topic.”

And so the conflict continues. Although the board has only approved one-fourth of the housing plan, most of the remaining items are noncontroversial. But even as they continue to brainstorm solutions, both sides doubt a mutually agreeable solution can be found.

“I’m really discouraged,” Horne said at a recent meeting. “We can’t even seem to come to grips with what the state required.”

“I’m discouraged that everything we do gets us farther and farther from the General Plan,” Van Zant responded.


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