Martis Valley plan moves full speed ahead
Even as the Martis Valley Community Plan heads to the courts under a lawsuit, Placer County will consider projects that propose about 1,200 residential units and 45 holes of golf in the valley.
A ruling on the litigation filed by five environmental groups in January is likely more than five months away, said Placer County attorney Rick Crabtree. By that date two large development proposals under the community plan, Siller Ranch and Eaglewood, may already be decided.
Placer County and the five litigants have already fulfilled their state-mandated requirement for settlement talks, which both parties agree have gone basically nowhere. The next step in the litigation will be a May 6 conference that will lay out the briefing schedule for the case.
Sierra Watch and its co-litigants now must decide whether or not to sue each individual project that comes through the planning process and attempt to tie the cases to the broader community plan suit. If an individual project is approved by Placer County and not sued, it is likely that the approval would hold up even if the community plan is overturned by litigation, Crabtree said, since approval includes vested rights.
Hopkins Ranch approval
The Placer County Board of Supervisors has already tentatively approved the first subdivision under the Martis Valley Community Plan, a 65-unit golf course community near the Lahontan development named Hopkins Ranch.
Siller Ranch, a 726-unit gated project that proposes 27-holes of golf, will come before the planning commission on May 13. Eaglewood, which plans 474 units, commercial space and an 18-hole golf course, should have the final environmental impact report complete within a month, at which point it would be scheduled for the planning commission, Placer County planning officials said.
Including Hopkins Ranch, the three projects would place 63 holes of golf in the Martis Valley.
The Martis Valley Community Plan, the overarching blue print for development in and around the valley, was adopted in December. Placer County projects that a maximum of 6,000 new homes will be built around the valley under the plan, which replaces 1975 guidelines set out for the area. Although the plan is under litigation, it remains valid unless a judge grants an injunction or overturns the plan.
Sierra Watch spearheaded the group of litigants, claiming the community plan underestimated impacts on water quality, air quality, traffic and environmental habitat.
Conditions of approval in the Hopkins Ranch decision assuaged some concerns about employee and affordable housing, a component of the individual proposals that had been conspicuously missing.
The county estimated that Hopkins Ranch will create 66 full-time jobs, and will make the developers provide housing for 50 percent of the employees. The Placer County Planning Department said that similar stipulations will likely be placed on upcoming proposals like Siller Ranch and Eaglewood, which propose little or no employee or affordable housing in their plans.
Placer County is set to adopt a new housing element, which will add updated requirements for employee and affordable housing in the Sierra region of Placer County.
However the Workforce Housing Association of Truckee Tahoe (WHATT) said that the county, using a calculation based on the Martis Valley Community Plan and the housing element, underestimated employee numbers.
In a letter to Placer County supervisors, WHATT Executive director Rachelle Pellissier said that by taking up 280 acres of land, the large-lot development handcuffs efforts to build affordable housing, which will require adequate land locations.
Conversely, the Placer County Planning Department holds up Hopkins Ranch as an example of correct estimation of the impacts of the plan. The 280-acre parcel could have held much more development, but was proposed at a low density, which translates into less traffic, air pollution, and other environmental impacts.
State attorney general weighs in
Sierra Watch received a big boost to its claims against the community plan when California Attorney General Bill Lockyer entered the fray by sending a letter to Placer County strongly criticizing the Martis Valley Community Plan in March. In the letter Lockyer said that the plan’s project description was flawed and underestimated impacts in the region. He also pointed out the lack affordable housing measures in the plan.
Since then Placer County has met with a representative for the attorney general.
“This was not an acrimonious discussion,” said Placer County Counsel Anthony La Bouff, who attended the meeting. “The attorney general has a prerogative under the public resource code and he exercised it.”
La Bouff said that much of the discussion revolved around differing projections of how much development would be allowed under the plan. Lockyer’s letter said that 20,000 units would be allowed under the plan – more than 11,000 units higher than the 8,600 maximum that Placer County relies on.
“I do believe that we have extensive documentation in the record [on the numbers], and we shared those with the attorney general,” said La Bouff, adding that Lockyer’s office may not have taken into account development limitations like topography and wetlands.
Meanwhile, Placer County continues to move forward with individual projects under the Martis Valley Community Plan. Just as Sierra Watch remains confident in its campaign to overturn the plan and reinitiate the public process, Placer County is confident that they fulfilled all the legal requirement in coming up with the plan.
“We don’t expect [the plan] to be overturned, but if it is overturned we will have see what that means,” said Placer County Assistant Planning Director Melanie Heckel.
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