Land Use Policy Update: ZONING ORDINANCE FOUNDATION ELEMENTS OF GENERAL PLAN
ZONING ORDINANCE FOUNDATION ELEMENTS OF GENERAL PLAN (See links at end of article for preceding stories)
We now finish reporting on the five key foundational checkpoints the Board of Supervisors (BOS) endorsed when the Land Use Policy Programmatic Update (LUPPU) and, more specifically, the 2004 General Plan Update began. We started this review in the last issue of this newsletter, when we addressed three out of five fundamental issues that were directed by the Board of Supervisors (BOS) to be considered when updating the 2004 General Plan and bringing the Zoning Ordinance into consistency with it.
The first three questions addressed were: 1) How is the county doing in meeting the General Plan housing goals and mandates? 2) How is the county doing meeting the General Plans’ jobs creation goals? And 3) How is the county doing stemming sales tax leakage of over $800 million annually? (Ref: Business Alliance…Update of July- 15, 2012).
The fourth foundational point is the desire to “Keep the County Rural”. So, how are we doing as far as land use planning goes under the current General Plan? The first thing to understand is that individual perceptions govern exactly what rural is. To those coming from dense population areas such as LA or the Bay Area, rural living may be El Dorado Hills, Cameron Park or Diamond Springs. For others, rural living is close to services but surrounded by 1-to-5 or 10-acre parcels of land, such as those living on the outskirts of Diamond Springs, Placerville or Cameron Park. To still others “rural” is living in the middle of hundreds of acres or within the ranching and agricultural areas of the community.
According to Webster’s “rural” is: “…of or like, living in the country” and “country” is “…lands with farms or small towns”. El Dorado County has addressed this issue within its General Plan (GP) land uses, notably in the designation of Rural Regions (RR) lands which are defined as “All lands not contained within the boundaries of Community Regions (CRs) or Rural Centers (RCs)”. Generally the GP defines CRs and RCs as areas planned for higher-density growth including residential, commercial and industrial uses and primarily with infrastructure services available. The GP also identifies CR and RC boundaries (ref: General Plan maps).
Rural Region lands can accommodate (thus be zoned) between 10 and 160 acre parcel sizes, and are appropriate for residential, agricultural, recreational and even natural resource uses. As part of the LUPPU process commercial and industrial land uses will also be analyzed as appropriate in some areas within this vast acreage of the county.
To appreciate how the General Plan has created a means of keeping the county rural, it’s important to recognize that only about 70,000 acres are designated as Community Regions (CRs,) and another 7,000 acres are designated as Rural Centers (RCs), while defined Rural Region lands total over 1 million acres!
Changes recommended for analyses in the LUPPU process include a new Rural Land (RL) zone that would work within the definitions of the General Plan’s Rural Region land definitions.
It is not uncommon to hear those opposing a residential development project in their neighborhood, to claim the area is “…supposed to remain rural” but this is often not the case. During the past 10 years of development under the current General Plan, the land feasibility research showed that 75% of the housing growth had taken place in the CRs and RCs, while only 25% of the growth took place in the Rural Regions. Additionally, that 25% growth was predominantly large parcel creation and not higher density projects that are directed to the CRs and RCs.
When the BOS addressed these facts in the General Plan Update review, they determined it was important to direct growth to the CRs/RCs, to preserve the Rural Region areas for agriculture, recreation and rural living. To this end the BOS adopted an approach to streamline regulations that encourage good project design and better use of lands within the limited CR and RC areas.
The fifth and final foundational LUPPU point was: How are we doing promoting and protecting our agricultural industry, including its support services?
As with all 5 foundational points, only the General Plan analysis and environmental review (CEQA) process will answer this question in full. However, the LUPPU process has had consistent and thorough review, analysis, input and recommendations by the agricultural industry, including several public hearings held by the Agricultural Commission. Representatives of the local Farm Bureau and Agricultural Department staff have also been engaged collecting and presenting data to the BOS for consideration.
Basically the agricultural industry has recommended significant changes be analyzed as the GP Update and new Zoning Ordinance processes move forward. For example: The ag industry requested the county consider how to simplify much needed support services in agricultural areas to encourage local commercial investment within these areas.
Fundamentally agricultural folks recognized early in the LUPPU process, that the best way to protect ag lands from incompatible adjacent land uses, was to utilize CR and RC lands to their full potential, so that agricultural lands would not be needed to meet population and housing growth pressures. Recently a few projects have been controversial as opponents believed that a site was intended for agriculture because the site retained archaic “ag” zoning. Ag interests did not support the claim because they understood that GP land use designation is the higher authority and the current zoning was not (yet) consistent with the GP. A primary reason for the LUPPU process is, in part, to bring inconsistent, archaic zoning into consistency with the General Plan, and this may require some zone changes to clarify the actual land use intent.
The Board of Supervisors (BOS) recently held public hearings on the Public Review Draft (PRD) Zoning Ordinance (ZO). The Board spent days hearing public comments on the approximately 450-page draft ZO. Considering the comments received, we consider the hearings a success. Comments were, for the most part, informative and on point, bringing up issues that were relevant and appropriate to the overall goal to produce a document that is clear, works for property owners, and that accomplish the goals and policies set forth in the 2004 General Plan. The LUPPU website can be accessed at: http://www.edcgov.us/landuseupdate/