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Land use policy changes under way

By March 8, 2012

A team of county managers and planners led by Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kim Kerr publicly unveiled a package of land use policy updates Tuesday night in El Dorado Hills.

Roughly 80 residents turned out, many concerned about growth in El Dorado Hills. Several spoke out against specific proposed projects in their neighborhoods.

The county-dubbed “policy program update” package features a long-awaited overhaul to the county zoning ordinance, aligning zoning with land uses specified in the El Dorado County General Plan.

A companion General Plan amendment attempts, among other things, to stem the flow of sales tax dollars over the county line, a phenomenon called “sales tax leakage,” reduces barriers to job creation by easing restrictions on commercial development and includes policies that encourage the construction of moderate-priced homes.

Work on both sprawling policy updates has been under way for years. Both will require a full environmental impact report. Tuesday’s show-and-tell was the first of many public meetings that will be held at various points in the likely year-long approval process.

The package also includes compliance with the 2013 Housing Element update — the county’s routine five-year confirmation, soon to be eight-year if senior planner Shawna Purvines can once again appease state housing overlords by demonstrating that the county has enough land in high density categories to meet state-specified affordability requirements.

Measuring and mitigating traffic impacts is essential to the proposed policy updates, but DOT’s traffic modeling software is outdated and no longer supported by the vendor. A new software package that factors in population and socioeconomic data to graphically predict the roadway impact of proposed new projects is also included in the update. Importantly, the new software can be used by DOT staff, whereas the current package requires a consultant.

An El Dorado County Board of Supervisors-appointed executive advisory team led by the CAO’s office, and staffed by members of Development Services, DOT and the board’s workhorse Economic Development Advisory Committee has spent thousands of hours on the zoning update and General Plan amendment.

The team’s goal is to wrap up the EIR and all the approvals by December 2012, but team leader Kerr told her El Dorado Hills audience that February 2013 was a more realistic approval target, with the Housing Element certification to follow later next year.

Kerr promised to return at regular intervals during the approval process, with formal public hearings at the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors as each policy update approaches the finish line.

Project history
In November 2011 the board wrapped up a five-year General Plan review, concluding that the plan’s concepts, strategies, projections, objectives and land uses remained valid.

They asked Development Services staff to work with the Economic Development Advisory Committee to review General Plan policies and craft a “course correction,” in light of the county’s poor performance in job creation, sales tax leakage and moderate-priced housing construction.

The update package contains key land-use reforms that have been approved in principal by the board, but require a General Plan amendment and environmental impact report, both of which are time-consuming and expensive.

The project outreach team spent the first hour delivering a thumbnail sketch of the updates, the reasons why they are needed and an overview of the approval process.

The second hour was a sometimes intense Q&A. Residents repeatedly questioned the county’s approval of commercial and residential projects without more roadway improvements to better handle the expected traffic.

The El Dorado Hills meeting demonstrated a disconnect between west-county residents who feel the county is using them as the repository for dense development, with its steep permit fees, and county staff trying to figure out how to meet General Plan goals for housing, commercial development and job creation that the public seems unaware of. The county must do this while complying with strict new state greenhouse gas initiatives that limit large projects to existing transportation corridors, numerous long-standing tree, wildlife, and water protection statutes, and a lack of sewer service in rural portions of the county, including the communities east of Placerville.

One resident asked why the county can’t simply ban all new development. Another repeatedly questioned the board’s job creation goal, “Most of us work in Sacramento or Santa Clara and like it that way.”

Attendees more familiar with the county development process worried that bringing the zoning ordinance into compliance with the General Plan land uses would remove constraints to development that are currently obstacles to the approval of high density development projects in El Dorado Hills.

Others, frustrated with proposed projects along Green Valley Road, wondered why the developers weren’t being asked to widen the road.

The presenters defended the current approval process and repeatedly backtracked to explain the intent of the General Plan, current policies and proposed policy shifts.

Principal planner Peter Maurer reiterated the goals of the current amendments, a healthy mix of commercial and residential uses that create a vibrant self-sustaining local economy while protecting and enhancing the agricultural and natural resources in the county.

Purvines explained that current housing and population trends are on target to meet the General Plan targets, with a few exceptions. The economic realities of home-building have left the county short of targets for moderate-priced housing, which typically requires high density, but can also be met with mixed use projects, which are included in the amendment package.

Commercial development and job creation numbers are far short of General Plan goals, she continued. The targeted amendment addresses policies that potentially constrain job creation, sales tax and moderate housing, while promoting and protecting agriculture and natural resources, including the expansion of agricultural district boundaries and the reclassification of Camino-Pollock Pines as a rural center.

Maurer explained that the last comprehensive zoning update was in the 1960s, and that the current zoning has numerous inconsistencies with the land uses outlined in the General Plan, a violation of state law.

The new zoning ordinance also includes several board-requested components:
• A rural commercial zone
• Limited commercial uses in rural regions
• Traditional neighborhood design plans
• Streamlined mixed use projects.
• Alternatives to current open space requirements for planned developments.
• Multiple types of industrial zones.
• Historic district overlays for Diamond Springs and El Dorado
• Interim wetlands and riparian guidelines

The supervisors also asked for greater use of discretionary planning “overlays,” such as “historic” and “mixed use” that allow more flexible uses, but are subject to a stricter public and county approval processes.

Although many properties will be rezoned, Maurer said zoning parcel size limits are being maintained wherever possible. “We’ll only down-zone if the land use designation has changed and made it inconsistent.”

Development rights are preconditioned and thus locked in for projects with a Specific Plan, such as Serrano, Promontory, Blackstone and Town Center in El Dorado Hills.

The audience Tuesday night included District 1 Supervisor John Knight, District 2 Supervisor Ray Nutting and their likely opponents in the upcoming election, Ron Mikulako and George Turnboo.

Most attendees were dissatisfied with the maps presented to explain the zoning changes. Several requested a more concise and detailed “before and after” picture of the proposed zoning changes.

Next steps
The outreach team took their road show to South Lake Tahoe on March 7, and will be at Pioneer Park in Somerset on March 12, Cameron Park Community Center on March 15, Northside School in Cool on March 19 and the Union Mine High School library in El Dorado on March 22. All meetings are from 6 to 8 p.m.

They check in with the board on March 27, which is another opportunity for the public to voice concerns.

The final EIR project description is targeted for April, which will kick off a 45-day public comment window that includes at least one more round of public meetings.

A draft EIR will follow, with more public comments, each of which must be responded to, then a final EIR with public hearing at the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.

The update has its own website, edcgov.us/landuseupdate.

Population growing
The General Plan predicts a 2025 population of 200,000 in the unincorporated portion of the county, which includes El Dorado Hills, but excludes Placerville and South Lake Tahoe. The 2010 census counted 149,266 people in that area, which means that the county must plan for another 50,000-plus residents in the next 13 years.

Mike Roberts


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