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Planning Commission continues proposed ordinance revisions


Last updated 12/28/2006 at Noon

The County’s Planning Commission heard public comment on proposed amendments to the county’s Subdivision Ordinance and to the county’s Resource Protection Ordinance during a December 1 hearing before that item was continued to January 12.

“I kind of feel the need to give this more time,” said Planning Commissioner Michael Beck.

The changes were proposed for the purpose of clarifying definitions and permitted uses as well as to improve processing. The Planning Commission can recommend changes, although the San Diego County Board of Supervisors has the authority to implement any changes. The Planning Commission can adopt an environmental statement, and the continuance also delays adoption of the environmental Negative Declaration for the updates – if a Negative Declaration rather than an Environmental Impact Report is deemed appropriate.

“We believe that an EIR is necessary to adequately address these changes,” said Jack Phillips, the chair of the Valle de Oro Community Planning Group.

The Negative Declaration was advertised for a 30-day public review period in August and September, and county staff determined that the changes proposed would not have a significant effect on the environment.

One of the changes to the Resource Protection Ordinance involves the definition of a wetland and the “no-touch” rule. The Resource Protection Ordinance prohibits impacts to wetlands which are located within man-made conveyance systems such as culverts, ditches, and agricultural ponds, even if those wetlands are small in scale and have negligible biological value, and also prohibits impacts to wetlands on lands which have been degraded by past legal disturbance activities to the point where they no longer have significant wetland-dependent sensitive species. The proposed amendments would lift the no-touch rule for those man-made systems if specific findings are made, although impacts to those areas may still require mitigation under the California Environmental Quality Act and other state and Federal regulations.

Another change involves the size of a wetland buffer; the current ordinance only requires buffers of an appropriate size to protect habitat resources but does not contain minimum or maximum buffer widths. The new language would create width parameters, stipulating a distance of 50 to 200 feet from the edge of the wetland as appropriate based on functional habitat values and importance in supporting the wetland and upland biological community. The proposed amendment also stipulates that if oak woodland is adjacent to the wetland the entirety of the oak habitat up to 200 feet in width shall be part of the buffer.

Factors considered by county staff in setting buffer widths include existence of hydrophytic vegetation, condition of the existing wetland, whether the wetland or buffer serves a wildlife corridor, existence of sensitive species, connectivity, and the condition of the wetland upstream and downstream. Although the county has previously allowed minimum buffer widths of 25 feet, those are mostly for wetlands created by man-made drainage systems such as a culvert or ditch, and the proposed change to the no-touch rule would eliminate most cases of buffers under 50 feet. The maximum 200-foot buffer width does not limit the amount of open space required by the California Environmental Quality Act.

Additional wetlands language also covers permitted uses, allowing for the removal of diseased plants, habitat restoration, and crossings for roads, driveways, and trails or pathways. Any road crossing must meet requirements including the lack of a feasible alternative which avoids the wetland, location and design causing the least impact, an analysis of whether the crossing could feasibly serve adjoining properties and minimize the number of additional crossings, and mitigation of at least three acres to every one acre impacted.

Another change allows for the elimination of artificial transient water sources such as agricultural water runoff which create and sustain wetlands; the current ordinance prohibits any impacts to the wetland area but a proposed exception would allow the transient water source to be discontinued if the impacts are mitigated at a ratio of at least 3:1.

Another change to the Resource Protection Ordinance involves pre-historic or historic sites; the amendments would limit the definition of such sites to formally designated sites.

The enforcement section of the Resource Protection Ordinance would be revised in its entirety. The current provisions only stipulate misdemeanor penalties for violations while the amendments would give the director of the Department of Planning and Land Use the authority to enforce all provisions and to order work to be stopped and corrections to be made if a violation is determined to have occurred. The amendments would also allow County Counsel to commence abatement or enjoinment procedures, would allow for administrative citations and for judicial injunctions or declaratory relief, and would allow the director of the Department of Planning and Land Use to order restoration to the pre-violation conditions and to impose time deadlines for restoration activities. The enforcement amendments would also increase the maximum fine per violation from $1,000 to $2,500 and allow for cost recovery to the county and for restitution to third parties.

Changes to the Subdivision Ordinance items on structural improvements for apartments converted to condominiums would include requiring that evidence be provided to show that the complex was originally constructed with approved building permits and replacing specifically-referenced codes with a stipulation that the structure must comply with the building, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical codes in effect at the time of construction.

The proposed Subdivision Ordinance also exempts from public road standards any private road ending in a cul-de-sac and not planned to connect to another public road if that road would serve an average daily traffic volume of fewer than 100 vehicles. The road easement would still be required to be at least 40 feet in width but would not be subject to right-of-way width requirements ranging between 52 and 60 feet.

If the Subdivision Ordinance amendments pass, the director of the Department of Public Works would also be authorized to require that roads meeting private road standards be dedicated for public use and maintained by a Permanent Road Division zone.

Another Subdivision Ordinance proposed change would require an analysis to assess whether extending on-site roads to the subdivision boundary so that they can connect with roads from adjacent projects or existing public roads would be feasible and practical.

Another new clause would require extension of public water supply facilities adequate to serve a subdivision which is within a water district’s sphere of influence if the main lines of the existing potable water supply are within 500 feet of the subdivision or if the subdivider has proposed the use of a public water supply to serve the subdivision.

Another proposed change would make the boundary adjustment application review process consistent with other discretionary permit processes and would replace specific information requirements with a stipulation to provide data specified by the Department of Planning and Land Use director.


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