HSRA Successful in 7000 Acre Rezone Dezone
High Sierra Rural Alliance announced today that a settlement reached with Sierra Pacific Industries and the County of Sierra will prevent the rezoning of SPI lands without the appropriate process.
SPI had requested, and received, rezone on 7000 acres from Timber Production Zone to General Forest. The land is on the south edge of Sierra County, and is experiencing growth pressure from Truckee.
HSRA protested that the process hadn’t included sufficient environmental information, the rezone was not consistent with the county General Plan, and that the County was wrong to approve such a rezone without a clearly defined project.
Though SPI denied any plans for the area, it is some of the most desirable property within an hour of Lake Tahoe, high, beautiful, environmentally fragile. At the time SPI spokesperson Mark Pawlicki was quoted as saying "Basically what it does is it supplies more land management flexibility, this is an area of high recreational use. We don’t have any specific plans." The term "recreational use" could mean anything from cross country ski trails to a ski resort; there is a lot more money in the resort.
Travelers along Henness Pass road through the area will note, every mile, a sign indicating that one is entering or leaving SPI property. The property is in a checkerboard pattern with National Forest land, which expands its influence.
SPI has been a good partner and landowner in the area, when it was easy. They’ve been a willing seller to conservation organizations. However, the company is switching some of its land from timber to real estate.
HSRA’s settlement includes having SPI pay their legal fees, and the County rescinding its approval for the rezone. At the time, Sierra County Planning department spokesmen were saying that the Timber Production Zone was voluntarily entered into, and came with tax incentives. There was the indication that it was entered into voluntarily, and could be exited the same way, with more taxes going to the county as a result. No reviews were required, since there was no project to review.
HSRA responded with the logic that no owner of a small lot could ask for a zone change without providing a reason and explaining the changes to neighbors. This was, they maintained, the same thing. Time has shown they were probably right.
HSRA spokeswoman, Stevee Duber, is quoted as saying," the settlement is great news for the integrity of the Tahoe National Forest. It doesn’t make sense to convert remote forested lands for development in view of the environmental challenges we are facing due to climate change and the critical role forests play in enhancing watershed and habitat health…Sierra County’s General Plan is very specific about encouraging development around existing communities and discouraging development in areas remote from existing services… When these sorts of policies are easily overcome, land speculation and escalating prices result, which in turn creates more pressure for random, unconstructive development."
Sierra County Planning has a reputation both for cooperating with landowners, and not cooperating with landowners, as is appropriate for the damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t world of county land use. Still, this is the second time HSRA has brought the department up short for not following process, and not observing the county General Plan. In this instance, SCP may have allowed the rezone inappropriately, or maybe not. The settlement doesn’t require an admission of culpability, it simply construes that the process, as HSRA described, would be followed, or the request for rezone withdrawn. At press time no one from SPI was available to say if SPI planned such a project, which is probably just as well as answers from SPI spokespersons generally waste ink without revealing much.
HSRA states on their website "Under the agreement the property owned by SPI in a remote and environmentally sensitive area within the checkerboard of the Tahoe National Forest will remain protected from premature development." However, other sources have suggested that Sierra Pacific Industries is free to continue to try to have the land rezoned, but there will have to be a project, and as a result the process of environmental review and public input will need to be observed.
More on the subject is available from HSRA HERE.