TS - Timber ordinance extension on tap

Timber ordinance extension on tap

Humboldt County supervisors will consider on Tuesday extending a controversial moratorium on issuing permits to build on land zoned for timber production.

The original emergency ordinance was spawned after the Pacific Lumber Co. submitted a plan to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Corpus Christi, Texas that called for building 136 high-end homes on 22,000 acres of timberland as part of reorganizing. But the decision to put the moratorium in place has caused a major backlash from many timberland owners, while supporters say it was necessary and remains so.

The staff report reads that since the board isn't meeting on Nov. 13 or Nov. 20, it has to consider the extension before the ordinance runs out on Nov. 24. The report recommends an extension for 90 more days, while the planning commission works to hammer out permanent rules for building in the timber production zone, or TPZ.

If it's not extended, county staff maintains, issuing building permits received during the gap between the new ordinance and the initial temporary ordinance could have substantial unintended consequences.

Attorney and landowner Bill Barnum said the county's initial reaction to Palco's plan was irrational and ill-advised. He said if there is a rush for building permits, it's the county which is to blame.

”You can't tinker and alter market conditions and then marvel when people respond,” Barnum said.

Staff has scheduled a Forest Review Committee hearing to discuss a slate of changes to the existing county policy on building in TPZ. That meeting, on Wednesday, will go over proposed changes to make it necessary to show that any home built in TPZ must be necessary for managing the forest; must have water storage sufficient to carry the residence through dry periods and prevent drawing down streams; and is compatible with adjacent landowners' habitat conservation plans, among others.

Those recommendations would be passed to the planning commission for a Nov. 15 meeting. The Board of Supervisors would hear the commission's recommendations on Dec. 11.

In the meantime, said the Humboldt Watershed Council's Mark Lovelace, there is a concern that people may take advantage of the gap to file permit applications that wouldn't meet the standards set by future ordinances.

”There's a concern that people will file anything to have their foot in the door,” Lovelace said.

Any extension would have to pass on a 4-1 vote.

There is little question that the emergency ordinance first adopted weighed heavily in the mind of bankruptcy Judge Richard Schmidt. The judge said he'd watched the proceedings and noted the county's concern over such a major development by Palco, and questioned whether the company's restructuring plan was feasible because of it. On Oct. 23, he directed Palco and its creditors to go into mediation and negotiate a plan.

But opponents of the ordinance have rallied against what they see as a subversion of the general plan process, and have planned protests, including one today at the courthouse. They claim that the emergency rule cheats landowners of their right to due process.

What: TPZ proposed emergency ordinance extension
Where: Humboldt County Courthouse
When: Tuesday, 1:30 p.m.

What: Board of Supervisor's regular meeting
Where: Humboldt County Courthouse
When: Tuesday, 9 a.m.

John Driscoll The Times-Standard 11/03/2007
John Driscoll can be reached at 441-0504 or jdriscoll@times-standard.com.

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