General Plan Update approved by supervisors

“Here it is,” said Plumas County Planning Director Tracey Ferguson as she handed out copies of the updated General Plan to members of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors. The General Plan is the foundation for the future, Ferguson told the board.

Although Ferguson wasn’t on board for many of the revisions, she still seemed to take pride in the 2035 General Plan Update along with the associated Final Environmental Impact Report. The General Plan Update document amended some sections of the Title 9 planning and zoning of the Plumas County Code.

The first reading of the revisions was waived at the Oct. 8 meeting. A public hearing was also held and no one from the public spoke.

Assistant Planning Director Becky Herrin, who has been involved with the revisions every step of the way, discussed the plan with supervisors.

Timeline

The general Plan Update started in 2009 and was approved in 2013 by supervisors, it was noted during the meeting.

By the following year, Plumas County was embroiled in a lawsuit. In High Sierra Rural Alliance v. County of Plumas, the county eventually won. This established a new rule of law in a decision set down Oct. 19, 2018, stipulating that the county’s General Plan Update did not violate the California Timberland Productivity Act of 1982. That decision came from the Third Appellate District.

The changes

Suburban Zone (S-1)

The purpose of the suburban zone is to provide for dwelling units at the ratio of one to three acres per dwelling unit with provisions for compatible uses. This section stays the same through uses and height requirements.

Changes are found under area, width and coverage. There is an addition specifying that “the maximum building coverage shall not exceed 50 percent of the lot area, except that on any parcel, which is at least one acre in size, each dwelling unit and accessory buildings shall cover no more than one acre.”

Yards, parking loading and signs, all under the same area within the document, remain the same.

Secondary Suburban zone (S-3)

Purpose, uses and height requirements remain the same. Changes begin at area, width and coverage: The addition of “the maximum building coverage shall not exceed 50 percent of the lot area, except that on any parcel, which is at least three acres in size, each dwelling unit and accessory buildings shall cover no more than one acre.”

Rural zone (R-10)

Here again the language remains the same as in the previous general plan. Area, width and coverage now includes: “The maximum building coverage shall not exceed 50 percent of the lot area, except that on any parcel, which is at least 10 acres in size, each dwelling unit and accessory buildings shall cover no more than one acre.”

Rural zone (R-20)

Purposes, uses and height requirements are the same as in the past. Changes come again under area, width and coverage: “For parcels at least 20 acres in size, each dwelling unit and accessory buildings shall cover no more than one acre.”

Under area, width and coverage (Rec) the change is under the maximum building coverage in Rec-P, the Rec-1, the Rec-3, the Rec-10 and the Rec-20 zones shall not exceed 70 percent of the lot area.

Heavy Industrial zone (I-1)

Everything within this entry remains the same until changes appear under area, width and coverage requirements. The code used to read, “There shall be no requirement for maximum building coverage.” It now states the maximum building coverage shall not exceed 70 percent of the lot area.

Light Industrial zone (I-2)

Purpose and uses categories remain the same under this article. Changes come under height requirements. It now states that: “Timber product manufacturing structures shall not exceed 125 feet in height, no other structures shall exceed 75 feet in height.” This used to state that structures couldn’t exceed 60 feet in height. It still remains that dwelling units shall not exceed 35 feet.

Another change in the updated general plan is that the maximum building coverage shall not exceed 70 percent of the lot area. Previously, there was no limit on maximum building coverage.

Agricultural Preserve zone (AP)

A change is found under area, and width to now include coverage. There is also the addition that states that each dwelling unit and accessory buildings shall cover no more than one acre. Miscellaneous permitted compatible uses shall cover no more than one acre.

Timberland Production zone (TPZ)

The only change to the  general plan concerns parcel coverage, stating that each dwelling unit and/or permitted structure shall cover no more than one acre.

The purpose of Article 32 is for a zoning district consistent with mandates of the Z’berg-Warren-Keene-Collier Forest Taxation Reform Act of 1976 encouraging the protection of immature tress and restricting use of timberland to the production of timber products.

While on TPZs, it might be pointed out that in the lawsuit, High Sierra Rural Alliance challenged the county’s General Plan Update and Final EIR, especially “these documents’ treatment of possible growth outside of the county’s planning area,” according to the document.

HSRA contended first that the plan update violated the timberland act of 1982; and second, that the plan allowed a residence or structure on a TPZ as compatible with its designated use “even in the absence of a requirement the residence or structure be ‘necessary to the management of land zoned as timberland production,’” and that this violated Government Code section 51104.

Third, HSRA also contended that Plumas County violated CEQA by failing to properly address potential impacts of construction of multiple buildings covering up to two acres on a single parcel without discretionary review or mitigation policies to protect the environment.

Fourth, Plumas County’s EIR is defective because it doesn’t address significant impacts of allowing new clustered subdivision development in rural areas.

Finally, that Plumas should be required to re-circulate the Final EIR because of significant new information regarding development in TPZs after the close of the public comment period.

According to Plumas County’s attorney, James G. Moose of the firm Remy, Moose and Manley, the legal opinion of the Third Appellate Court established a new rule of law in that it explains “the finding (required by the Timberland Act) that a residence or structure is necessary for the management of a timberland production zoned parcel is not an exercise of discretion as used in the CEQA context.”

Using the Friends of Westwood, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles as a basis, the court’s opinion provides local agencies and legal practitioners important guidance. Under that case, it was determined that an agency can exercise CEQA discretion only where it has the power to stop or modify a project in a way that would mitigate the environmental damage in any significant way, according to Justices Coleman A. Blease, Andrea L. Hoch and William J. Murray.

Further, it was the appellate court’s opinion that the Timberland Act “affords the county no discretion to stop or request modification of the proposed residence or structure in order to mitigate environmental impacts,” and that’s why the court rejected High Sierra’s argument.

The appellate court reasoned that, “By determining that the county could make a factual finding regarding the necessity of a proposed residence on a 160-acre (or larger) parcel zoned TPZ (Timberland Production Zone) without triggering the need for CEQA review, the court has made a very useful and helpful distinction between the judgment agencies must sometimes use in ascertaining facts, on the one hand, and the discretion agencies may enjoy under their ordinances or regulations to deny projects or condition them in order to avoid or ameliorate their environmental impacts, on the other hand.”

“Judgment used to ascertain facts is not the same as discretion created by ordinances or regulations authorizing project denial or conditioning based on environmental factors,” according to the opinion. “The opinion makes this distinction in a way that no prior CEQA precedence has done.”

In sharing the opinion with commissioners Wilson said that the opinion is something to be proud of. He said that he shared it with all planning directors in the state.

General Forest zone (GF)

The only change to zoning code states that, under area, width and coverage requirements, the addition of each dwelling unit and/or other permitted structure shall cover no more than one acre.

Mining zone (M)

Again, under area and width, the wording includes the addition of the maximum building coverage. It shouldn’t exceed 70 percent of the lot area except that each dwelling and accessory buildings shall not cover more than one acre.

A complete plan is available for public inspection at the Planning Department in Quincy.

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