Zoning change by Supes opens up large timberland parcels to cannabis production

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

​HUMBOLDT – County supervisors have deferred action on controversial General Plan rezoning items but a new timberland zoning designation has been approved with a focus on larger parcels.

​That will allow what planning staff recommended against – opening up smaller and mid-sized timberland parcels to cannabis grows.

​Under the pressure of litigation threats, the Board of Supervisors again took up rezoning at its August 27 meeting. It was the third hearing on new zoning designation texts that are opposed by property rights advocates who threatened litigation at a previous hearing and again at this week’s.

​In response, supervisors followed a staff recommendation to hold off on the most controversial decisions, including    defining  the size of developable areas in agricultural and timberland zones and viewshed protection measures.

​A new Timberland-Exclusive (TE) zone immersed the board in a long debate but was eventually hammered into something most supervisors could support.

The new TE zone will be applied to timberlands now zoned under the vague Unclassified category, which encompasses about 4,000 acres and 312 parcels. Agricultural-Exclusive (AE) zoning will be the default zoning otherwise.

​County planning staff recommended a version of TE with a 60-acre minimum parcel size. That’s the same as in AE but Planning Director John Ford told supervisors that the agricultural category would allow cannabis cultivation.

​He noted that under the county’s rules, converting timberland areas to cannabis grows isn’t allowed. But some supervisors were concerned about mixing the two uses.

In noting that Southern Humboldt has the most and largest parcels proposed for TE, Supervisor Estelle Fennell recommended applying the zone to industrial-scaled timberland parcels of 160 acres or more.

​“If you look at the general layout of the county, 45 percent of the land, and maybe even more, is timber production land,” she said. “So it’s not really something that we have a lack of but we perhaps want to protect lands that are definitely geared toward productive forestry.”

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​She suggested the 160-acre minimum “in the spirit of compromise,” as supervisors had been debating the category’s necessity.

​Supervisor Steve Madrone said that numerous people from Fennell’s district “have come up to me and have said, ‘I’m so bothered by what has happened in the cannabis industry and I want to sell my property and I don’t want it to go into cannabis production – I would like to protect it for forestland and all the protection it provides.’”

But home development and second units are allowed on timber and agricultural lands and Supervisor Mike Wilson warned that residential value could eclipse resource value, especially close to urban areas.

“Some of our best redwood-growing lands are at risk in the current context and some of our best agricultural lands are at risk if we don’t come up with good performance standards,” he said. “So I would like that process to start as soon as possible.”

He added that protection standards are important “for what really is the long term soul of Humboldt County.”

​Most supervisors voted to adopt an ordinance including the version of TE with a 160-minimum size.

Board Chair Rex Bohn dissented, saying the county’s existing Timberland Production Zone category adequately protects working forests. 

​The outstanding controversial items, which also include fire safe standards for residential development, will be decided in separate ordinance and community planning processes.

The discussion on TE followed a public comment session that included warnings from Eureka Attorney Allison Jackson and a Humboldt Association of Realtors representative on making changes that they said are at odds with state environmental review law.

​But Ford said the TE zone is legally sound because it implements General Plan directives.

​Town center zoning

Supervisors also considered and approved a new Mixed Use (MU) zone whose most significant application will be to McKinleyville’s planned Town Center area.

​The Town Center’s boundaries run from Pierson Park to McKinleyville Avenue and from Railroad Drive to just south of Hiller Road. The center also includes the commercial area north of Heartwood Drive.

​The MU zone advances a pedestrian-oriented mix of commercial, office and higher-density residential uses. Supervisors approved a version of it which allows the option of reducing parking requirements to fulfill the pedestrian-geared design goals.




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