Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Swayed by the findings of a professional forester and state agencies, the county’s Planning Commission has approved expanded construction on a Trinidad area parcel despite neighbors’ concerns.
Permits for significant added construction and additional wells and tree removal that go along with it were approved by a majority of commissioners at their July 1 meeting.
Applicants Maclyn and Janet Morris got approvals for construction of a new “garage/shop/office building” and two-car garage, the remodeling of an existing “garage/guest house” into a residential unit, and a detached ADA-compliant bathroom unit.
The project site is a nine-acre parcel on Stagecoach Road near the Patrick’s Point Drive intersection in the Trinidad area.
Neighbors are concerned about water use, as the project includes two new wells and what a staff report describes as a “major vegetation removal.”
County Planner Alyssa Suarez said a proposed removal of 179 trees “intends to reduce fire hazards and provide defensible space” up to 300 feet from the structures.
Most of the trees are redwoods averaging 18 inches in diameter.
The two new wells will augment an existing one. One of the wells will draw water from Hobson Creek but replaces a direct diversion.
Suarez said the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has signed off on the placement of the new wells.
During a public comment period, neighbors questioned the scale of the project and the extent of tree removal and water use.
Margaret Adams, who owns the property bordering the tree removal area, vouched for a staff recommendation to only approve removals within 150 feet of the structures.
Like other neighbors, she asked for more scrutiny of the well water use. “Everybody knows we have a water crisis,” said Adams, adding that “immediate neighborhood property owners are being put at risk.”
Another nearby property owner described the water use as “extravagant.”
Another said he and his neighbors control their usage and “prefer a healthy creek over any irrigated golf course-like lawn such as what we witnessed on our recent hosted tour of the Morris property.”
But Maclyn Morris noted that the new wells got state agency approval and the existing well has been permitted since the 1950s.
He read from a forester’s report that describes the tree removal as a means of reducing fire risks.
Carl Anderson, the registered professional forester who wrote the report, said not allowing tree removal farther than 150 feet from the structures would reduce fire protection.
Michael Helm, the project’s architect, said the Morris family is concerned about fire, having lost three homes to it in Napa and Sonoma counties.
Commissioners were concerned about the water use but unfazed by the tree removal.
Commissioner Peggy O’Neil referred to aerial photos and said surrounding properties appeared to have been “opened up” through tree-cutting and “this looks it could use some thinning.”
Board Chair Alan Bongio questioned why there isn’t more heed given to the findings of environmental and forestry professionals.
“I understand what the neighbors are saying but there’s also a lot of NIMBYism going on here,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that have their little piece of the world up there and they don’t want any change happening in it.”
Most commissioners supported allowing tree removal up to 300 feet from the structures. The applicants will retain seven of the most significant redwoods to allow screening.
Commissioners added a condition calling for a water management plan and a “water budget” based on a residential scale.
With those provisions, the project’s coastal development and special permits were approved in a 5-2 vote, with commissioners Noah Levy and Mike Newman dissenting.
There’s some suspicion that the project aims to launch a commercial lodging enterprise but planning staff noted that doing so would require additional permitting.