Placer County OKs Newcastle event center in split vote
The Placer County Board of Supervisors gave the go-ahead to a second controversial community center project within a week.
On Tuesday at the board’s regular meeting, supervisors Jack Duran, Jim Holmes and Kirk Uhler voted to overturn the Planning Commission’s denial of the Gold Hill Gardens community center project in Newcastle, while Jennifer Montgomery and Robert Weygandt, whose district is home to the property, voted against the appeal.
The community center designation will allow owners Mike and Cindy Carson to move forward with plans for a 5,250-square foot event center on an 11 1/2-acre parcel located south of the intersection of Gold Hill and Wise roads.
“I’m thankful that we have a system that works,” said Larry Farinha, a consultant for the Carsons, who declined comment. “That although things seem to be vague, we have codes in place and the supervisors were willing to uphold the codes as they’re written.”
The move comes after the board stamped its unanimous approval for the Wise Villa Winery Community Center in Lincoln on March 19.
The center will be allowed to host 150 maximum guests, operate for events 59 days per year and have 60 parking spaces – all of which had been reduced this summer from their initial levels as part of an effort to mitigate some of the Planning Commission’s original concerns.
On Nov. 8, 2012, the Planning Commission denied a minor use permit for the Gold Hill community center. However, it did approve a guest ranch/bed and breakfast and plant nursery. The plans also include five cottages.
Placer County staff recommended approval of the project, but it also recommended denial of the appeal because it felt there had been no merit to the Carsons’ claims, one of which stated the commission had improperly applied criteria when considering the permit.
Reasons for the denial included the lack of a “nexus” between the center and the agricultural use of the property, and the determination that it had been a commercial use in a rural area surrounded by agricultural and residential uses.
On Tuesday, county staff clarified that a “nexus” of that sort is not a requirement to have such a permit approved, and, as to that second reason, it said agricultural uses are, in fact, commercial uses.
“They’re still wrestling with this whole idea of what a community center is and what it should be,” Duran said of the Planning Commission. “The concern I have is they made a decision to include a facet that really isn’t a part of the discussion here, this whole nexus issue.”
Weygandt said more work needed to be done to clear up issues such as the connection between community centers and the property’s agriculture before he felt comfortable moving forward.
“I think we could attempt to place some conditions that would make me more comfortable, but I wouldn’t feel we did a thorough job,” he said.
Nearly 30 people participated in public comment, with a handful more of them opposing the project.
Supporters of the community center pointed to increased exposure to the area through agricultural tourism. Some said it’s their right as property owners in a capitalist society to pursue the venture and others shot down the idea of noise being a problem.
Even a woman who had recently been wed at the Carsons’ property explained how her guests from Southern California wanted to return to the area after being exposed to Placer County by way of the Gold Hill venue.
“This bed and breakfast and event center will be a jumping off place where people can see the beauty and grandeur of Placer County – and not just from I-80,” said Sandra Voyles, whose home on Gold Hill Road neighbors the Carsons’ land.
Opponents of the project had concerns about increased traffic on a narrow stretch of road that features a blind intersection, increased noise levels and a lack of clarity when it comes to the definition of a “community center.”
Carol Rubin of Save Placer Farmlands said about 200 people have signed a petition asking the board to deny the project and all future ones like it until there is more clarity provided on what constitutes a community center.
“If this project – which has been deemed totally inappropriate by the (Agricultural) Commission, the local (Municipal Advisory Council) and the Planning Commission – is approved, on what basis are we going to see a denial? Is it possible for any project to be denied?” Rubin said. “The process is broken, and we ask that you please fix it.”
A moratorium on future community center projects not currently in the pipeline will be presented before the board as soon as its next meeting.
“I think there is some work that we can do on the winery ordinance and the community center ordinance that can alleviate some concern that we’re seeing right now,” Duran said.
County staff will now prepare environment and use permit findings and conditions for the Gold Hill project to bring before the board at the next meeting.
Jon Schultz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews