Daniel Mintz, The Independent 4/20/2010vian34.ru
Homebuilding on Timber Production Zone (TPZ) parcels is one of the most argued-about aspects of the General Plan Update (GPU) and a majority of the county’s Planning Commission supports allowing one residence per parcel as an unconditional right.
The Commission reviewed the policies of the draft GPU’s Forest Resources chapter and debated whether allowing a residence on a TPZ parcel should be based on a connection to logging operations. Four of the five commissioners at the meeting said they think a single TPZ residence should be allowed through a ministerial permit – one that doesn’t require conditions – and that second units should be similarly allowed on parcels bigger than 160 acres.
That will disappoint those who view small-scale residential development of timberlands as a slippery slope toward conversion. But those who support it say that it maintains property rights and land value.
The issue was discussed extensively during the meeting’s public comment session, where various people suggested that a public uproar and litigation will happen if residential development is restricted.
Kevin Dreyer, the president of the Humboldt Association of Realtors (HAR), said that a house is defined in state law as being a “compatible use” with timberlands. He warned that requiring it to be conditionally permitted would devalue land and spark protests similar to the ones that ensued when the Board of Supervisors placed a temporary moratorium on TPZ development.
“You’re taking away the livelihood of members of your constituency,” Dreyer continued. “Taking away that right … is going to hugely affect a lot of people.”
The debate boiled down to the use of a small word in state law. State statute says that compatible uses in TPZ include “a residence or other structure necessary for the management of land zoned as timberland production.” Eureka Attorney Bill Barnum told commissioners that the use of the word “or” is disjunctive and the timber management requirement refers to the “other structure,” not the residence.
Barnum said that if a staff recommendation to require residences to be related to timber management is adopted, it will contradict state law and the county will be sued.
Julie Williams of the Northern California Association of Home Builders gave a similar warning. “No matter what staff is telling you, you’re taking people’s property rights and that’s going to cause litigation and a lot of problems for the county – and we can’t afford it,” she said.
The current county ordinance allows one residence per every 40 acre TPZ parcel, which has been described as a motivator for splitting up larger parcels. And Jennifer Kalt of the Healthy Humboldt Coalition said 35,000 acres of TPZ land has been “broken down into smaller parcels” in the last 12 years. Proposals from Barnum Timber and Southern Humboldt’s Hilltop Ranch would add 12,000 acres and 50,000 acres respectively to that, she continued.
Commissioner Ralph Faust, a former attorney for the state’s Coastal Commission, referenced Barnum’s interpretation of state law and disagreed with it. He said the rest of the state law talks about preventing timberland conversion to urban uses and discouraging the expansion of urban services into timberland. “How can a legislature that says that is the purpose of its law then go on to say that any parcel zoned TPZ gets a residence? How does that limit urban expansion into timberlands? It does precisely the opposite,” he said.
Faust added that allowing the homebuilding “makes perfect sense if you want to maximize the residential economic value of your parcels – but that’s not what the legislature had in mind.”
Commission Chairman Jeffrey C. Smith disagreed. “When you look at these parcel sizes that we’re talking about in TPZ, they’re very large,” he said. “And I don’t think allowing one house on a TPZ parcel is converting it to an urban use.”
Commissioner Dennis Mayo said he agrees with Barnum’s read of the law. “I can tell you that my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Orrin, would roll over in her grave if I didn’t know that the ‘disjunctive or’ always goes to the right, not the left, in a sentence – that’s pretty clear,” he continued.
Mayo added that if residential development is conditioned on timber management, “We’re not only going to throw the baby out with the bathwater, we’re going to destroy our economy and any hope of keeping a timber base here.”
Faust was the only commissioner who disagreed with allowing one house per TPZ parcel as an unconditional right. Commissioner Mel Kreb was absent. The hearing was continued to the commission’s April 22 meeting.