Zoning stands

Supervisors uphold 2.5-acre minimums outside Greenline

Sometimes doing nothing is the easiest way out of a jam.

Nothing is exactly what happened at the Butte County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday (Sept. 15), following the board’s reconsideration of a controversial rezone near the Greenline in northwest Chico.

As the CN&R reported in its Aug. 27 issue (Newslines, “A botched process?”), several residents and neighbors of the so-called Bell-Muir Extension (BME), 33 parcels north of Bell Road and west of Muir Avenue, had requested that the board rezone the area from very low density residential (VLDR) with a 2.5-acre minimum lot size to rural residential, whose minimum size is 5 acres (RR-5).

The BME lots originally had been zoned RR-5 during the process that resulted in creation of General Plan 2030, which was approved in 2010. Subsequently, several property owners petitioned the county to rezone the area VLDR with a 1-acre minimum, which is the existing zoning in the much larger county area to the immediate south known as the Bell-Muir area (not to be confused with the Bell-Muir Extension).

Unlike the BME, the Bell-Muir area is inside the Greenline, a demarcation adopted in 1981 to protect westside orchards by prohibiting all urban development beyond the line. However, low-density and rural-residential “transition zones” between urban and agricultural uses are allowed.

After several public hearings, in 2012 the board adopted the VLDR-2.5 zone as a transition-zone compromise, as Supervisor Larry Wahl described it, between the 1-acre and 5-acre zones. Changing it back to RR at this point would establish a bad precedent, he said.

The problem was that a number of Bell-Muir Extension property owners and many of their nearby neighbors on the urban side of the Greenline apparently weren’t notified of the hearings. They didn’t learn of the rezone until 2014, when they saw real-estate signs advertising smaller lots for sale in the area.

One of them was Pete Peterson, a local almond farmer and the owner of Chico Nut Co. He hired attorney Andrew McClure, of the Minasian law firm in Oroville, and on Aug. 25 they petitioned the board to do another rezone, this time reverting to the 5-acre minimum. The 2.5-acre minimum was set without their participation and contrary to laws that require adequate notification, McClure told the board.

Tim Snellings, director of the county’s Department of Development Services, insisted the county was on sound legal footing, but Supervisor Maureen Kirk was skeptical. “It was clearly pointed out by Mr. McClure that it wasn’t noticed,” she said.

Snellings told the board he wanted time to come up with a compromise, so the matter was continued to Sept. 15. But he and his staff were stymied, so on Tuesday DDS Assistant Director Pete Calarco presented the supervisors with the same choice they had before: rezone the area back to RR or stick with the VLDR-2.5 zoning.

Complicating the issue was the fact that two property owners had completed applications to split their properties. They would have to be included as exceptions were the board to revert to RR zoning, Snellings said.

That left only about eight parcels that were large enough (more than 5 acres) to split, and the owners of four of them spoke in favor of keeping the 2.5-acre minimum. Some of them, like Kevin and Lorraine Riley, who live on Bell Road, had bought their properties believing they could split them.

A couple of speakers complained that the VLDR-2.5 zoning outside the Greenline was inappropriate, but Wahl insisted that nothing about the Greenline was being changed.

Kirk reiterated her concerns about the lack of notification. “The decision we made was not made with all the information we could have had,” she said. She moved to revert to the RR zoning, but got no second.

The other supervisors lined up behind Wahl, saying that, all in all, it was better to leave the zoning as is. No motion was needed for that, so no action was taken, and the discussion was over.

McClure, interviewed later that afternoon by phone, said his group was “disappointed that there was no answer to our main contention that the notification procedure was inadequate. But what are we going to do? Nothing.”