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Judge ponders Feather River Inn suit

Delaine Fragnoli
Managing Editor


After a full day of argument Friday, Oct. 8, in the case of High Sierra Rural Alliance vs. the County of Plumas, Judge Gayle Gwynup thanked both sides for a job well done and said she would probably take the full 90 days to issue her opinion.

The suit challenges county supervisors’ approval in May 2009 of a master plan, planned development permit and environmental impact report for the Feather River Inn project.

The group is asking the court to set aside the county’s approval of the project, declare that parts of the county’s General Plan at issue for this project are inadequate and issue injunctions preventing further construction activity.

The judge’s timeline means the parties will not have a judgment until after the first of the year.

About 15 people attended the hearing, including Plumas County Director of Planning Randy Wilson, Plumas County Counsel Craig Settlemire, Senior Planner Becky Herrin, Supervisor Lori Simpson, developer Michael Schoff and several High Sierra Rural Alliance (HSRA) supporters.

Much of the argument at the hearing was over the definition of “floodplain” and whether the definition was clear to members of the public and decision makers during the approval process.

HSRA alleges, in essence, that the county played fast and loose with the definition of floodplain in and around Bonta Creek, where developers want to build 88 resort condominiums.

The project, plaintiffs say, would allow re-engineering of the stream channel to change its flood pattern to allow for new construction in what is the currently existing floodplain without adequate analysis of the environmental effects.

If the plan says “no buildings will be constructed in the floodplain,” that means one thing if planners are talking about the existing stream and floodplain conditions and something else if they’re referring to a floodplain that is the result of alteration of Bonta Creek.

HSRA contends the county performed a similar sleight of hand in designating condominiums as “lodging” units when the developer intends to sell them as “residential” units.

The group says under the county’s current General Plan, there are no density standards for land zoned “recreational,” and the county treats approval of lodging units on recreational land as exempt from density standards.

If the units were “residential,” density standards would apply. HSRA asserts the net effect is to circumvent any further permitting before construction begins.

For its part, the county contends the burden of proof is on plaintiffs and the project EIR addresses flood issues in a “full and transparent manner.”

It argues the project will not substantially alter Bonta Creek, and the proposed “improvements” will protect existing structures, the Stone House and the theater. The county says the only developments planned for the floodplain are roadways.

The county takes HSRA to task for a number of alleged procedural and evidentiary faults, saying, in essence, the group should have brought up these issues earlier in the process.

The county also argues it is shielded from HSRA’s General Plan arguments, including the arguments about density, by the General Plan extension it received in April 2009, from the state Office of Planning and Research.

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