Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kim Kerr, backed by a team of county managers and planners, has been explaining a wide-reaching package of land-use policy updates, first unveiled last month in El Dorado Hills.
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The “policy program update” package features a long-awaited overhaul to the county zoning ordinance, aligning zoning with land-uses specified in the General Plan. Kerr said she hopes to get the final environmental impact report certified and zoning ordinance complete by February of 2013.
Roughly 80 residents turned out in El Dorado Hills. Many were concerned about growth. Several spoke out against specific proposed projects in their neighborhood.
The package includes a companion General Plan amendment that attempts, among other things, to stem the flow of sales tax dollars over the county line, a phenomenon called “sales tax leakage,” and 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 of the sprawling policy updates has been under way for years. Both will require a full EIR.
The package also includes compliance with the 2013 Housing Element Update, the county’s routine five-year confirmation —soon to be eight, if Senior Planner Shawna Purvines can once again convince state housing overlords 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and mitigating traffic impacts is essential to the proposed policy updates, but DOT’s traffic modeling software is outdated and no longer supported by the vendor.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 socio-economic factors and relies on the county’s Geographic Information System to more accurately 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.
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.
In November of 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, but that a “course correction,” was in order, in light of the county’s poor performance in job creation, sales tax leakage and moderate-priced housing construction.
They asked the CAO’s office to lead an advisory team that includes DOT staff and the board’s workhorse Economic Development Advisory Committee, which has spent thousands of hours studying the issues.
The update package contains key land -use reforms that have been approved in principal by the board, but require a General Plan amendment and EIR, both of which are time-consuming and expensive.
El Dorado Hills residents repeatedly questioned the county’s approval of commercial and residential projects, questioning why more roadway improvements weren’t included.
One resident asked why the county can’t simply ban all new development. Another repeatedly questioned the board’s job creation goal, saying, “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.
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, 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.
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 homebuilding 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 said. 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, which is a violation of state law.
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 that zoning parcel size limits are being maintained wherever possible.
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 final EIR project description is targeted for April, which will kick off a 45-day public comment window, which includes at least one more round of public meetings.
The update has its own web site, www.edcgov.us/landuseupdate.
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.