Martis Valley development approved, then appealed
January 27, 2004
The Placer County Planning Commission approved a 65-unit housing development in Martis Valley under the newly adopted Martis Valley Community Plan on Wednesday – an approval that Sierra Watch vows to appeal to the Placer County Board of Supervisors.
Hopkins Ranch proposes 58 single family homes, seven cottage units and an 18-hole golf course in a gated community on 280 acres north of the Lahontan subdivision off of Schaffer Mill Road.
Sierra Watch will appeal the decision, the first approval under the Martis Valley Community Plan (MVCP). The community plan is headed to the courts under a legal challenge by Sierra Watch and four other environmental groups.
Placer County Planning Director Fred Yeager said the conditions contained in the approval are the first example of the community plan’s effectiveness.
The conditions include requirements that the developer build 33 employee housing units, employ special filtering devices for water drainage to Martis Creek, and that the developer donate $5,000 for each residential unit and acre of land to purchase open space.
“This is the first chance for us to demonstrate that we were serious about this and we will actually do it,” Yeager said. “It was an opportunity to prove that the policies the county said that they would put in effect were placed on the very first development that was approved.”
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But Sierra Watch opposes proceeding with project approval under an embattled community plan that they say is inadequate in analyzing the cumulative impacts of development in the Martis Valley. Project by project, Sierra Watch and other environmental groups say they see the area headed toward traffic gridlock and poor air and water quality.
Sierra Watch says the MVCP violates state and county guidelines and should go back to the county drawing board and be reworked to analyze the cumulative and long-term impacts of the possible 20,000 additional people who could call the Martis Valley home.
While Hopkins Ranch only represents 65 housing units of the 6,000 allowed in the Martis Valley under the new plan, environmentalists see the Hopkins Ranch proposal as the first step toward habitat destruction and overpopulation of the valley.
“The Placer County Planning Commission was wrong to approve the proposed development,” said Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch. “It carves up land that is identified as priority conservation land. It proposes to put a private golf course for just a few people in the meadow of Martis Valley. Hopkins Ranch doesn’t solve the problem; it is the problem.”
While Sierra Watch, Sierra Club, Mountain Area Preservation Foundation and other groups have joined to litigate the overarching MVCP, Mooers said that opposing individual proposals that environmentalists feel are detrimental to the Martis Valley is of equal importance.
“This development is as important as the broader MVCP because it is where the rubber hits the road, and Sierra Watch is committed to following through and preventing it from happening,” he said.
The appeal is another example of the split between environmentalists and Placer County government over what development is appropriate in Martis Valley. Although Yeager admits the Hopkins Ranch golf course will be built in meadow land, he notes that a chemical application management plan and drainage filtering will mitigate the effects of the course. Developers and planners also point to the low density of such projects as an indication that the valley may not develop to its maximum build-out of 8,600 housing units.
Basically, Placer County sees Hopkins Ranch as evidence that the new community plan is effective, while Sierra Watch sees it as a proposal as the first of many threats to the environmental health of the Martis Valley. The decision will now be up to the Placer County Board of Supervisors, who will make a decision on the proposal after it is appealed.