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Action Alert: Say No to McMansions and Yes to Land Use Protections

Before the Board of Supervisors is a crucial vote: Should we make it easier for people to de facto subdivide their property, allowing more McMansions in the hills, or should we try to protect our forests and agricultural lands from sprawling development? Against this threat, we need to show the Board of Supervisors that the people want better land use protections and not houses everywhere in the hills. As a warning: the particulars here might seem boring—zoning code changes are not sexy by any means—so stay with me!

One issue before the Board is the potential creation of a new zoning classification: timberland exclusive. Zoning classifications are how we can regulate which types of uses go where in the county. (Zoning is why, for example, you likely don’t live next to a garbage dump or factory—we’ve recognized that these types of uses are largely incompatible with residential development.) Not all lands are the same. Some are great for growing timber, others great for growing other agricultural products. The zoning code reflects this and calls for these special lands to be protected so that they can continue to serve their best and highest use. Timberland production zones (TPZ) and agricultural exclusive zones (AE) are two other already existing resource zones. As proposed, timberland exclusive recognizes that timberlands should be managed differently from other agricultural lands and deserve special protection. EPIC supports the creation of timberland exclusive.

Another issue affecting all resource zones is residential development. Residential development often inhibits timberlands and agricultural lands from being utilized for their purpose. (A farmer, for example, can only afford to grow crops that do not produce a high value if the land is cheap enough to afford to grow those crops. Residential development can hurt farmers by pricing out farm lands, as the ability to build luxury estates on farm land drastically bumps up the price of these lands.) Residential development is allowed on these lands, but through zoning, we can limit the impact.

One way to limit the impact is by confining residential development to a small area of the total parcel—called a “residential building envelope” in the proposed zoning text amendments. Here, the Planning Department has proposed that residential housing and associated outbuildings not exceed two acres for most parcels, or for small parcels, no more than 20% of the total parcel. This makes sense—if you want the land to be able to be used for agriculture, don’t spread buildings out across a property. Under the guise of “property rights,” this reasonable suggestion is being threatened with litigation because it is more lucrative to spread out buildings. That way, you could effectively subdivide property by having one house on one spread of the property and another on the other side of the property.

Another way to protect property is to have larger minimum parcel sizes. The minimum parcel size is the minimum size someone can subdivide a property. Timberland and agricultural management typically requires larger parcels, particularly for sustainable timber management, as you will only harvest a smaller number of trees per acre requiring a larger acreage to achieve the same volume. Let’s imagine a 120-acre timberland parcel. If the minimum parcel size was 20 acres, you could divide that parcel into six new parcels. Each parcel would be too small to manage for timber, thus in effect, you are creating the perfect estates for the landed gentry to build their McMansions. If, instead, the minimum parcel size was 60 acres, that original parcel could only be divided in two, better preserving the land for its intended purpose. Of course, many people want to get rich off subdividing properties at the expense of the rural environment.

Those looking to get rich try to wrap themselves in a warm-and-fuzzy sentiment that they are defending the “rural way of life.” That’s a life. Instead of defending rural living, their end result is reckless subdivision: more people clogging dirt roads, more lights outshining starry nights, and more cost to the county to provide services.

The Board needs to hear from you. Please take five minutes to email the board. Here’s a couple quick talking points:

  1. I support the reasonable alternatives brought forward by staff to protect our resource lands from unfettered development.

  2. Residential building envelopes are called for in the General Plan. The proposed zoning text amendment is consistent with the General Plan and is necessary to prevent abuse and de facto subdivision of resource lands.

  3. Timberland exclusive zoning classes are important because timberland management is categorically different than other agricultural operations and our zoning code should reflect this.


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