Open space protection downscaled in GPU

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – At the most recent county General Plan Update hearing, supervisors reduced protection of open space lands between communities to two areas that already have limits on development.

The Board of Supervisors made further changes to the draft update’s open space policies at a Feb. 23 hearing.

A goal-setting policy on establishing community separators – open space areas between communities – had previously been approved in a non-binding vote. Later, supervisors revisited it and asked staff to amend it and eliminate the need for specific mapping of community separator areas.

The resulting policy names two separator areas – the forest hillside areas designated in the McKinleyville Community Plan and the McKay Community Forest, which is owned by the county and is already off-limits to development.

Supervisor Mark Lovelace said the limited application of community separators does not add any environmental protection and ignores public support for protecting open space in the Old Arcata Road and Bayside areas, among others.

Noting that community separators are defined as “open space areas between urban development areas that separate and preserve the unique identities of the county’s cities and communities,” Lovelace described the revision as inadequate.

“I think there’s a lot more that’s included in that concept than these two pieces we’re talking about here,” he said.

The discussion framed the county’s political schism over land use when Supervisor Ryan Sundberg responded.

“I think this is where the fundamental difference between me and you is,” he told Lovelace. “I don’t believe Humboldt County is being grown or zoned in such a way that it’s going to be packed full and you can’t tell when you’re going from one place to another.”

He added that “natural barriers” physically limit development and only about 50 residential building permits were applied for last year.

“In my opinion, there’s a lot that this plan is trying to protect and it’s something that doesn’t need to be protected,” Sundberg said.

There was mixed response during public comment.

Representatives of the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights said zoning is an adequate means of protecting open space.

Environmental protection advocates said development pressure is incremental and update hearings predating this version of the board featured strong support for mapping community separators.

Most supervisors supported the downscaled approach. But the possibility of expanding it was explored by Board Chair Estelle Fennell, who said additional community separation areas might be added during the community-specific mapping phase of the review.

Sundberg agreed and said that, “if there’s a huge outcry for more than what we have here, any of these can be brought back at the end – these are just straw votes.”

In a non-binding vote, supervisors voted 4-1 to approve the limited version of the policy, with Lovelace dissenting.

Supervisors then finished their review of the update’s Water Resources Element, approving policies on stormwater management, critical watershed designations and watershed planning in coordination with other agencies.

The only policy that drew significant discussion was an implementation measure that called for “increased enforcement capabilities” in dealing with unpermitted development in critical watershed areas.

Most supervisors had doubts about the county’s ability to expand enforcement resources so the word “increased” was edited out.

Supervisors have finished reviewing the draft update’s chapters and elements and will move into the land use mapping phase at the next hearing on March 9. 

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