BriarPatch project bypasses general plan |

BriarPatch project bypasses general plan

At the risk of being the shortest term planning commissioner in Grass Valley’s history, I am compelled to speak out about the recent approval of construction of the BriarPatch market facility in the Litton Hill development project.

Please understand that I heartily endorse the BriarPatch operation as a socially desirable business model. I want its continued success and would love to see more businesses of this nature. That said, I believe the Grass Valley City Council’s approval of the facility is wrong for several reasons.

First, it suggests “business as usual” with the new council, continuing the pattern of recent years: Ignore the general plan, zoning regulations and present and future traffic concerns and approve something because the proponents are “good people who just want to have a successful business.” This smacks of ‘good ole’ boy’ politics, only now, because the proponents are ‘politically correct,’ it is ‘good new boy’ politics.

While the Briarpatch is a desirable business entity whose owners and members I would generally characterize as people of high integrity and social values, there is a huge blind spot on the part of supporters who I feel are essentially self-serving at the expense of the city at large.

What are the problems?

The market is still a business entity subject to the same market forces that any business faces. It can still go out of business, leaving the large storefront open to a more traditional commercial enterprise, such as a Safeway, Ralph’s, etc. and while the council members established a weak stopgap should the user change in the future (a new tenant would need a use permit) what are the odds that a new enterprise would have the same or less impact on the neighboring community?

And, regardless of political orientation or product, a market is still a market. I think there has been major self-delusion going on by proponents and supporters around the traffic issue. For the first time, this area will see regular commercial traffic and tractor-trailer trucks. How long will it be before taxpayers are asked to rebuild the traffic circle?

Also, unless I am missing something, the two-second traffic rules adds up to a minus. Consider: a business is approved if it does not add enough traffic to delay passage through an intersection more than two seconds so traffic increases at an intersection at an “acceptable” level. Business number two gets the same deal, but if two businesses are built under one development application, then the traffic impacts may very well exceed standards, requiring mitigation or denial of the project.

Further, even though developers can be forced to pay to mitigate negative effects on nearby intersections and streets, traffic is like water overflowing the river banks, dispersing over a large area.

The California Environmental Quality Act, voted into place by the majority of the state’s voters, specifically recognizes the aggregate impacts of several developments in one area and requires a higher standard of accountability from developers – a standard which piecemeal development conveniently avoids. Escaping the intention of the law through technicalities is not morally justifiable and I am disheartened that the Briarpatch folks are willing to accept this.

It is also wrong for our elected leaders to change the rules that were put into place by the entire city, benefiting few. Winners? The developer, who’s property values just went up dramatically (a “giving,” instead of a “taking”) and the commercial business of Briarpatch, which became the success it is at its existing location but now will be able to expand its client base and its revenue, thereby adopting the ethic of big business, which is “bigger is better.”

The argument that the facility meets the intent of zoning by providing a local ‘convenience store serving local business’ is specious; witness the small size of such an enterprise serving the airport’s industrial area.

The losers? Everyone who transits the already substandard nearby intersections; area residents, whose property values may be adversely affected as large development expands into residential neighborhoods; and ‘at large’ city residents whose lives under current leadership will apparently continue to be subject to excessive growth despite the fact that Grass Valley’s growth rate is already double the state’s rate.

And with all of this, one has to wonder what the point is of having city staff spending months evaluating projects and giving information to planning commission members, who proceed to spend days reviewing documents, rules and regulations and making recommendations – all to be overturned for a “feel good” movement in Grass Valley history.


Terry Lamphier is a resident of Grass Valley.

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