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Moratorium approved on Placer County community center applications

Controversial designation could be better defined before more permits considered
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Community centers defined

Here’s the Placer County zoning ordinance language on community centers:

“Multipurpose meeting and recreational facilities typically consisting of one or more meeting or multipurpose rooms, kitchen and/or outdoor barbecue facilities, that are available for use by various groups for such activities as meetings, parties, weddings, receptions, dances, etc. Includes grange halls.”

 

Placer County supervisors voted Tuesday to take a timeout on the ongoing community center controversy to provide staff a 45-day window to come up with clearer guidelines.

Both community center applicants and opponents have complained about a process that has, over the past two years, pitted rural neighbors against each other on what constitutes a “community center” designation.

Two proposals worked have recently their way through controversial rural municipal advisory council meetings and Placer County Planning Commission hearings to be heard on appeal by the Board of Supervisors. Supervisors voted 5-0 last month to approve a Wise Villa Community Center proposal, 3 miles northeast of Auburn. And two weeks ago, the board voted 3-2 to OK a use permit for a Gold Hill Gardens community center project in Newcastle.

Both proposals were fought by a coalition of local, rural residents, who objected to approvals of community centers under a designation they argued was meant for non-profit meeting halls – not for-profit event centers.

Supervisor Robert Weygandt asked county planning staff to look at a designation that needs to be better clarified. Weygandt said a community center bed and breakfast establishment could be opened next to a rice farm – which has 24-7 harvesting taking place. Or an establishment could be opened next to a ranch with bawling calves at night during calving season.

“It’s fraught with ongoing controversies that will be intense for some time,” Weygandt said.

The moratorium, initially recommended by Supervisor Jack Duran, would stop any planning work on new community center applications for the next 45 days. The community center designation allows events throughout the year but requires a minor use permit. It’s permitted in all residential and farm zones, on approval of the permit.

Over the past year, the Board of Supervisors has observed a significant increase in applications and interest in the establishment of community centers and private event centers in residential and farmland-use zones, Community Development/Resource Agency Director Michael Johnson said.

“The board has concluded the current definition does not consider impacts that may result from allowing private event centers in historically rural areas,” Johnson said.

The moratorium, which could be extended for another 22 months, 15 days, will allow staff time to develop criteria and standards that may be appropriate in future reviews of proposals, Johnson said.  

 Marilyn Jasper, representing the Sierra Club and local Public Interest Coalition, thanked supervisors for taking another look at the definition and impacts.

“The word ‘mischaracterization’ best describes the proposals,” Jasper said. “They are in fact commercial, privately owned profit, event centers located in ag and farm zones.”