Meeting focuses on future of historic North San Juan |

Meeting focuses on future of historic North San Juan

Sitting obediently on the stoop, Spike, Sadie, and Whoopus peered into the North San Juan fire station Monday night, watching 30 or so locals discuss ways to ensure that future development preserves the community’s historical character.

The three are locals too, of course, but the pit bull, boxer mix and lab mix weren’t allowed in, perhaps for fear they would devour the plates of freshly baked cookies arranged on a table.

The three pups missed a two-hour discussion about building rules, sidewalks and parking. The town hall was convened by county Planning Commissioner Doug Donesky and Nevada County Supervisor Robin Sutherland.

The impetus for the planning effort was the “lightbulb moment” when Donesky realized Nevada County would require any new buildings in North San Juan to be set back, usually 25 feet, from the street.

He called the standard “really inapplicable” for North San Juan.

“During the Gold Rush era, buildings (were) uniformly pulled up along Main Street,” Donesky said.

Different standards could be approved for the historic town – population 150, according to its sign – but it would take community planning and special approval from the county’s Board of Supervisors.

So Donesky and Sutherland did a bit of research and organized a committee, which is spearheading the planning.

“We’re not trying to make the decisions; we’re just willing to do the work,” said Carole Chadima, a North San Juan resident and member of the committee.

Donesky emphasized the committee has members with diverse interests and is not trying to encourage or discourage development.

“We are trying to build a living, vibrant community that can adapt,” Donesky said.

The vibrant community Donesky envisions would have a “convenient but not too visible” parking lot, buildings lining the street and covered sidewalks.

Other suggestions are also welcome, Chadima pointed out.

While water and sewage space are both development considerations, the committee is not considering them right now, Donesky said.

Although it was not the initial driver for the planning effort, a near-development effort by a Canadian company provided a wake-up call to the community.

The firm considered building a winery, wine-tasting room, Internet cafe, deli and more in North San Juan but is being wooed away by other foothill communities, said Jim Adams, a Realtor with Golden Foothills Realty.

The planner’s efforts generally found favor with the community, although resident Patrick Edmondson pointed out that he would have preferred resident-based, rather than business-based, improvement.

The North San Juan Ad Hoc Committee is accepting suggestions on the future of the community.

To comment, e-mail Pat Leach at or phone Planning Commissioner Doug Donesky at 292-9250.

About North San Juan

In 1853, Christian Kientz discovered gold in North San Juan, and the area was quickly settled. Kientz named the hill “San Juan” after San Juan de Ulloa, a fortress atop a hill in Mexico he saw while fighting in the Mexican War.

When the town wanted a post office in 1857, it learned that a another California community had already claimed “San Juan,” so “North” was added.

The town became a hub for transportation and communication: Stagecoaches, freight wagons, and the world’s first long-distance telephone line all cut through the settlement.

When hydraulic mining was outlawed in 1884, the town’s population plummeted.

Sources: Historian Bob Wyckoff and “The Virtual California Gold Country”

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