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By Joe Naiman
Village News reporter 

Supervisors approve FCI overlay


Last updated 3/3/2020 at 6:44pm

The overlay designator for land which had been previously restricted by the Forest Conservation Initiative was approved by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

The supervisors’ 5-0 vote, Feb. 26, does not prohibit a general plan amendment for properties within the overlay area although any general plan amendment must meet water supply, fire safety, environmental resource, land use pattern, emissions and open space, including agriculture, preservation criteria and would also be analyzed for consistency with the county’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment in conjunction with the nearest village or rural village area.

“I think this is a good thing,” Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.

In 1993, the county’s voters passed the Forest Conservation Initiative which stipulated a density of one dwelling unit per 40 acres for lands within the Cleveland National Forest boundary but outside of existing community town areas.

The FCI covered approximately 286,000 acres, including approximately 72,300 acres under county land use jurisdiction and prevented general plan land use designations from being changed until the FCI’s expiration date of Dec. 31, 2010.

The hearings on the update to the county’s general plan began before the expiration date, so the FCI lands were not included in that update which was approved in August 2011 although during the update process county Department of Planning and Land Use, which became the Department of Planning and Development Services in 2012, staff began a separate effort on new maps for FCI land based on the principles of the general plan update.

DPLU staff did not pursue significant changes when the new maps were developed, and most of the planned additional development was near the Viejas Indian Reservation in Alpine. If a property transferred to a tribal government is held by that tribe in fee rather than in trust, it is subject to county land use and zoning regulations, but if the property is added to the reservation trust, it is exempt from county land use jurisdiction.

In addition to developing the maps Department of Planning and Development Services staff identified alternatives, and the county’s Planning Commission held hearings in October 2013 and November 2013. In November 2013, the planning commission voted 5-1, with Michael Beck opposed due to concerns regarding Alpine and John Riess absent, to recommend the rezones.

The maps went to the board of supervisors in June 2014, although the action was to choose a preferred map for the environmental impact report rather than to adopt the general plan amendment for the densities. The supervisors’ 3-1 vote, with Ron Roberts absent and Dave Roberts opposed due to his preference for the FCI densities to be used as the baseline to evaluate the draft EIR and returned the update to PDS for environmental analysis.

The new land use designations for the former FCI land along with a supplemental environmental impact report were approved by the board of supervisors in December 2016. The following month a lawsuit was filed by the Sierra Club, the Cleveland National Forest Foundation and Save Our Forests and Ranchlands.

The county and the plaintiffs began settlement discussions, and in February 2019, a settlement agreement was reached in which the county would place a forest indicator overlay over the former FCI lands outside of village or rural village boundaries.

The settlement required the board of supervisors to consider adoption of the FCI overlay within 12 months of the settlement agreement date if no environmental impact report was required or within 18 months if an EIR was required.

The overlay does not change the land use regulations or general plan densities adopted by the board of supervisors in December 2016 but requires that additional analysis and findings be made before the approval of any general plan amendments which would increase residential density beyond what is currently allowed in the general plan.

If a land use amendment for an FCI overlay area is brought to the board of supervisors, the county supervisors, with the assistance of county staff, must analyze the consistency of the project with the county’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment allocation and determine whether there is available development potential in the nearest village or rural village area to accommodate that project’s proposed increase in residential density.

The supervisors will also be required to make findings that the project is supported by adequate access to water supply consistent with the county’s Groundwater Ordinance that it would not exacerbate wildfire risks that it is compatible with the environmental resources of the Cleveland National Forest and would not adversely affect the stability of land use patterns in that area that it employs carbon-neutral principles and that it is not part of a piecemeal conversion of a larger forest area to residential or other uses which are not open space.

A majority of the parcels have some constraints covered by existing general plan policy limitations including steep slopes, location outside the San Diego County Water Authority boundary which makes those properties dependent upon groundwater or inadequate public or private roadway access.

Approximately 81% of the FCI land, or 58,799 acres, has agricultural zoning and 58,671 acres have land use designations of RL-40 (Rural Lands – one dwelling unit per 40 acres) or RL-80 (Rural Lands – one dwelling unit per 80 acres). Approximately 17% of the FCI land, or 12,450 acres, has special purpose zoning such as open space, extractive use or a transportation or utility corridor.

The S80 open space zoning classification is intended for recreation areas or areas with severe environmental constraints. Structures such as restrooms, storage buildings and pavilions are allowed on land with S80 zoning if a site plan addresses the impacts of the structures. County-owned parks are exempt from the zoning ordinance, so the Department of Parks and Recreation would not need planning commission or board of supervisors’ approval for a site plan.

The zoning for the other 448 acres includes residential, commercial and tribal lands.

The overlay is for general plan amendments which alter an area's density rather than for building permits or use permits.

“The overlay does not affect ministerial permits,” Jacob said.

That allows barns, storage facilities and other agricultural structures, excluding farmworker housing, to be built with the proper discretionary or ministerial permits.

Although any proposed general plan amendment would be analyzed for consistency with the unincorporated county’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which is 6,700 units for the years 2021 through 2029, the FCI lands do not overlap with any existing RHNA sites and since most of the areas are outside of the CWA boundaries and in environmentally constrained areas the overlay is not expected to impact the county’s ability to meet its housing requirements.

The overlay itself is exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review although any general plan amendments would need to meet CEQA standards.

Three De Luz parcels are subject to the Forest Conservation Initiative. Two of those were changed to one dwelling unit per 10 acres while the other remained at one dwelling unit per 40 acres.

A 4-0 planning commission vote Jan. 10, with three commissioners absent, forwarded the recommendation to the board of supervisors.


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