Neighbors come out against developer’s bid to decrease ag buffer
It was about 100-to-1 on Tuesday (June 13) at the Butte County Board of Supervisors meeting in which a developer (the one) was appealing a Planning Commission decision to nix his proposal for a 15-house neighborhood in unincorporated south Chico. “We support a 300-foot buffer,” the opponents repeated.
The main issue with the proposal is that the neighborhood is slated for an area on the agricultural side of the Chico Area Greenline, though it is zoned for very low density residential. And in order to squeeze 15 houses onto the two lots, which straddle Stanley Avenue just east of Dayton Road, a designated 300-foot buffer between agriculture and residential must be reduced to 150 feet. The southern border of the property lies along Comanche Creek/Edgar Slough, which serves as a riparian fence. To the south lie walnut orchards, which require pesticides. Without a 300-foot buffer, opponents argued, pesticides could drift onto those residences.
Furthermore, Agriculture Commissioner Louie Mendoza explained that the developer didn’t follow the correct protocol in gaining approval to reduce said buffer. He started at the beginning, saying that property owner Nels Leen had approached his office in December 2015—before buying the property. He requested a site visit that resulted in a letter from office staff saying there were no “unusual circumstances”—a technical term returned to time and again—that would preclude him from reducing the buffer from 300 feet to 150 feet.
“But at that time, there was no project in place,” Mendoza said, adding that his office offers unusual circumstances request forms that Leen should have filled out once specific plans were outlined for the development.
“We went through what we thought were proper channels. This was not some sort of secret deal,” Jim Stevens, a spokesman for the development and principal at NorthStar Engineering, told the board. His words were pleading. If they hadn’t gotten the go-ahead, “they wouldn’t have bought the property,” he contended.
County Counsel Bruce Alpert turned to Stevens and chided him slightly. “A letter from the Ag Commission doesn’t guarantee your project,” he said. “I think you know that.”
Neighboring farmers and orchardists took to the podium one after another and explained that they don’t want residences encroaching on their right to farm. Colleen Cecil, who heads the Butte County Farm Bureau, echoed their arguments. “We’re not opposed to development; we just want to see the rules we put into place for good reason remain in place,” Cecil told the board. “The 300-foot buffer and setback was created because this county has a commitment to agriculture, and to ensure agriculture sees no impact as a result of urban development.”
Stevens and Leen assured the board that there would be no complaints by residents, that they’d understand they were living in the country, but opponents didn’t buy it.
“I live 1,500 feet from walnut orchards and Comanche Creek,” neighbor George Rapp countered. “I’ve been there for four years, and it’s noisy. … People who have never lived near an orchard are in for a rude awakening.”
In the end, as was originally recommended by Alpert, the board closed public comment but made no vote pending further review by county staff. The issue is expected to resurface during the board’s July 25 meeting.