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Humboldt Coalition For Property Rights > Press > Press Coverage > SoHum Ground Zero of Ag and Timber Land debate

SoHum Ground Zero of Ag and Timber Land debate

Daniel Mintz, The Independent – 10/20/

The latest hearing on the county’s General Plan Update showed that environmental consciousness is split when it comes to land use standards for farm and timber lands.

The Update’s various policies on preventing conversion and restricting subdivision of resource lands were extensively debated at an Oct. 15 Planning Commission hearing.

Alternative A, the GPU’s most development-restrictive option, has become the focus of disagreement. Its policies set large minimum parcel size standards and increase restrictions on subdivision of farm and timber lands.

Although Alternative B, a less restrictive compromise option, is the one county planners recommend, Alternative A’s policies are feared by Realtors and developers because there’s an escalating surge of advocacy for them.

And in areas like Southern Humboldt, where homesteading is a respected tradition, the idea of preventing homebuilding on farm or timber land is equated to unnecessary loss of property rights by some.

Many Southern Humboldt speakers said they want to maintain the right to build on their land and can live on it without negatively affecting the environment.

“Most people who have bought TPZ (Timber Production Zone) land didn’t do it to shirk their taxes, they bought it because they had the dream of building a home and living on their property,” said a Miranda man. “Now a lot of them are facing what could potentially be punitive measures.”

A proposed requirement to have a Timber Management Plan in order to gain a homebuilding permit was cited as one obstacle to fulfillment of property rights. Another controversial policy proposal under Alternative A is requiring owners of contiguous resource land parcels to merge them into one large tract.

The concept of creating larger parcels of farm and timber land to prevent residential growth was challenged by several speakers.

Lily Macy, a resident of the Mattole Valley, said she and her husband have lived on a 40-acre parcel for 40 years. A 10-mile area once occupied by 10 families now has 55 families, with no ill effects, she told commissioners.

Macy said people in the valley live on land that was once extensively logged and is now being restored. “The rural lifestyle in Southern Humboldt is not sprawl,” she continued.

But Redway resident Virginia Graziani highlighted “the effect on the market value of resource lands when small subdivisions and greater household density are permitted.” She said an obvious equation is “the more developable the land, the higher the price.”

Under that scenario, buyers of farm and timber lands can’t recover the prices they paid through farming, ranching or timber harvesting, Graziani continued, adding that building entitlements will have long-lasting effects .

Land value is an important aspect of the debate. Earlier in the meeting, Debbie Provolt of the Humboldt Association of Realtors was the first of many speakers who objected to Alternative A’s land merger policy.

Citing acreage values in Southern Humboldt as an example, Provolt said requiring owners of contiguous resource land parcels to merge them into one large tract would have “dire consequences for landowners” by cutting their property values by half in some cases.

One Southern Humboldt resident read a letter from Ettersberg rancher Sally French, who said she opposes ordinances that would “make it more difficult for large landowners” by increasing minimum parcel sizes. French said large landowners need to be able to sell smaller parcels occasionally “so they will be able to keep the rest.”

French said she also supports allowing second “mother-in-law” units on resource land parcels and opposes parcel mergers.

For some, land value isn’t measured in dollars. Many speakers talked about global warming, oil dependency and the value of having expansive tracts of open space. Several people described Humboldt County as one of the last fronts of resource preservation and the host of new conservation opportunities.

“We’re in a position to develop a post-carbon county,” said Mattole Valley resident Willow Rain.

The hearing was continued to October 22 but it’s expected to consist mostly of the completion of the review for urban and rural lands chapters. It will be a “working session” for the Commission, with no public comment.