Timberland use ordinance forced back to square oneTimberland use ordinance forced back to square one
by Wendy Butler, 12/16/2007
A county land-use ordinance that could have been in place 30 days after its passage is now, in effect, in pieces and back to the drawing — and planning — board.
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors last Tuesday voted 4-1 to discontinue timberland production zone ordinance discussions and to put the proposed TPZ revisions back into various county committee and commission deliberations about the Humboldt County General Plan Update.
The Forestry Review Committee had been tackling some of the same issues, such as discretionary permitting, second residences and TPZ rollout, before the supervisors passed an emergency moratorium in October on issuing residential construction permits on TPZ land, Community Development Services Director Kirk Girard said during a Thursday interview.
The FRC has been discussing timberland development and zoning since 2002, he said.
The acceleration, he said, of focus on TPZ came as a result of Pacific Lumber Co.’s bankruptcy reorganization plan.
As previously reported, PALCO introduced a concept for a high-end residential development, “Redwood Ranch,” to be located on nearly 22,000 acres of its second-growth, commercial TPZ land.
The concept is what necessitated the temporary moratorium, Supervisor Jill Geist said before the Tuesday vote and again on Friday.
She took county planners to task at the Tuesday meeting for not, in her opinion, following several of the supervisors’ directives.
Those included providing information about how the county’s TPZ code measures up to state law; information and discussion on state forestry policies; and the California Forest Practice Act and state permitting for certain types of conversion projects, including conversion of parcels smaller than 3-acres, which can qualify for state exemption from a Timber Harvest Plan and the California Environmental Quality Act.
“Our perspective is we only have a role to play in what is our jurisdiction,” Girard said. “We control land use, and what rules do we have under our jurisdiction that may or may not regulate (that use)?”
Girard had advised how residential construction on TPZ land was not subject to discretionary review, including for a project such as PALCO’s.
But, he said, it was obvious at the public hearings before and following the passage of the moratorium that “there were going to be at least 20 or 30 agencies involved in this decision. There was no question about it.”
Geist said she spoke with state forestry board staff about conversion permitting, and per that conversation and her knowledge that PALCO had planned infrastructure development prior to the sale of any parcel, it was clear to her that would trigger “a major timberland permit.”
Geist said she didn’t know this before she and Supervisor Bonnie Neely introduced the moratorium motion, and said she wished staff had informed her of the state rules concerning this type of TPZ construction.
“The issue was originally about PALCO; it was not about the TPZ land,” Geist said.
The supervisors had wanted to make sure Redwood Ranch had “adequate environmental review,” she said.
“That’s what drove it for me,” Geist said.
Knowing the state will provide regulatory review, she said, made it reasonable to put TPZ discussions back into the general plan update process.
How much has the TPZ ordinance preparation over the past two months delayed concentration on the general plan update?
“It effectively put us two months behind,” Girard said.
He said staff rescheduled for later hearings general plan chapter discussions that had been scheduled to go before the Planning Commission.
Geist’s criticism was not the only one expressed this past week. During Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights’ Tuesday rally, some participants displayed signs that bore red lines through Girard’s name.
“I think if people understood the purpose of the authority that the federal and state constitution gives local government, it’s one of the few areas in the separation of powers between state, federal and local government that local government enjoys,” Girard said. “The exercise of that authority requires the county in any jurisdiction at the local level to evaluate how land use affects general well-being, and it necessarily sets up a conflict between public interest and private interest as part of the design of our constitution.
“Our jobs are to reach that optimum balance between the public interest and private interest, and an issue like how should timberlands be used raises a whole host of questions of what is in public interest versus what is in private interest.”
“It’s not going to be orderly and nice all the time,” he added. “It’s going to be chaotic; it’s going to be controversial; it’s going to get highly personal.”
Planning on TPZ
By Wendy Butler, the eureka reporter
County timberland policies are found in the Humboldt County General Plan’s forestry element.
“But there could be other topics associated with the subject in the land-use element and the open-space element,” Community Development Services Director Kirk Girard said.
As a result of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors’ vote to put timberland production zone revisions into ongoing general plan update discussions, individual elements (some of them new) in planning staff’s TPZ ordinance revisions could end up in a variety of places, Girard said.
The “ministerial” provision of staff’s proposed four-category TPZ permitting process contains the following condition: “Finding of necessity for the management of timberland and that the residence will not significantly detract or inhibit is presumed based on evidence in the NTMP (non-industrial timber management plan) and three-acre conversion permit.”
In regard to its place in the general plan, a policy on whether houses do or don’t detract goes in the forest resources element, Girard said.
“If the decision was houses in TPZ do not require regulatory review, that would go in the land-use element,” he said.
The ordinance included a four-part permitting dynamic, as well as suggested creating the zones “TPZ exclusive” and “TPZ.”
TPZ exclusive “would apply to large contiguous holdings with little or no improvements where large-scale timber production dominates,” a staff report stated.
In TPZ exclusive, a conditional-use permit would be required and a house should be “necessary for person(s) fully employed on the premises,” a permit graph stated.
The ordinance did contain some new language, such as TPZ exclusive, Girard said, but the concept is not new.
The Forestry Review Committee this week will cover TPZ during its continued discussion of the general plan’s forest resources policies, Senior Planner Michael Richardson said.
The meeting will be Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Agricultural Center, 5630 South Broadway, Eureka.
For its general plan assessment, the committee has been looking at a four-option forest resources policies matrix for several months, and that includes rezoning of land out of TPZ and also second residences therein.
At its Nov. 27 meeting, the FRC took a vote on second residences.
It voted, “Second units should be taken out of the list of permitted uses on TPZ parcels less than 160 acres, and should be allowed only in the 3 acres converted already, or intended to be converted.”
The committee might take up planning staff’s proposed TPZ ordinance, whose latest revisions the FRC hasn’t discussed, or might choose to “pick up where they left off with the general plan update and not take up those TPZ zone changes,” Richardson said.
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