Planning areas are new aspect of updated General Plan

Joshua Sebold
Staff Writer

The Plumas County Planning Commission discussed the basic structure of the upcoming General Plan update draft at a joint meeting with members of the General Plan working groups in early December.

Colleen Shade, the General Plan consultant team leader, said one of the new aspects of the document would be “planning areas” delineated on maps by a blue line.

She said a planning area was surrounding or connected to a community and “essentially identifies the boundary to which potential future development may go to.”

Shade was speaking specifically about dense development, with five or more parcels.


The current format of the General Plan includes several new distinctions. These new lines have been laid over an old Lake Almanor map as a demonstration. The blue lines are referred to as a planning area. These are areas connected to a community with services where expansion and some development are encouraged. The black lines are around towns and communities where there are more services and even more potential for development. The red lines surround rural places or planned communities, which are relatively self-contained and have fewer services.

Example only, not current draft

Planning Director Randy Wilson later added that the size of parcels also had to be taken into account.

He said the intent was to make it easier to split land up into multifamily or 10,000 square foot parcels inside the planning area to focus development there.

Wilson clarified that no one’s zoning would be limited or downgraded from its current state, but that a planning area indicated where it would be easier or harder to create more density than current zoning allowed.

Sierra Business Council president Steve Frisch, another consultant team leader, added that increasing zoning density outside the planning area would likely require a general plan amendment; the goal is to draw the lines in ways that accurately predict where development will occur in ways the county encouraged and state and federal regulators tolerated.

Frisch said the planning area distinction would replace the “opportunity areas” used in the version of the General Plan that’s been in use for the last few decades.

Plumas Corporation Director John Sheehan favored the change because the county put too many opportunity areas in its previous General Plan, leading to a massively inflated population projection.

Wilson later indicated that projection predicted 125,000 would be living in Plumas County.

Shade added that part of the basis for that projection was that the opportunity areas were placed over large areas of land without distinguishing between buildable areas and flood plains or other non-buildable areas.

Frisch said the new plan would also make a distinction in terms of which areas need an environmental impact report (EIR).

Areas outside the planning area automatically require an EIR, while some areas inside the blue line might not.

“No entitlements are intended to be diminished by this General Plan review unless the private property owner wants that,” Sheehan explained.

Frisch said the introduction of the planning area would help defensibility of the plan, particularly during its environmental review.

He told the audience that a massive population projection like the previous plan “causes all kinds of anxiety and angst,” and isn’t warranted in a county that won’t ever approach a population of 125,000.

“This is a 20-year planning horizon that we’re trying to capture here,” Wilson added, explaining the point is to predict as accurately as possible where development would occur, while leaving some flexibility for the unpredictable.

Frisch also said the process to move a project forward outside the planning area wouldn’t be any stricter than it is in those areas right now and in some cases it would be easier.

Shade told the crowd the goals were attainable, “a good General Plan maybe gets amended less than a dozen times over 20 years.”

Wilson agreed, saying a General Plan in another county that he worked for was tweaked about 11 times in 12 years.


Towns and communities

The meeting also focused on a discussion of denser planning distinctions that would exist inside planning areas.

Working group members present decided on towns, communities and rural places as temporary titles for those distinctions.

Shade explained a town was a community that provided a minimum of services, including sewer, community water, year-round paved access and fire protection.

She said that included Chester, Quincy, Greenville, Portola and Graeagle, even though Graeagle doesn’t have all the services but expects to in the near future.

A community was described as having paved access and some other services, like Taylorsville, Beckwourth and Chilcoot.

Rural places and planned communities have some services, but have no blue line because the boundary of the community or place is the planning area, with no opportunity for dense development outside the border.

Johnsville and Vinton were suggested as rural places, while Whitehawk was listed as a planned community.

Shade said in any of those locations it would be easier to add density, with towns supporting the most density.

Communities like Chester and Quincy might be broken down further into two community plans, allowing for variation in priorities within large towns.

County officials will see an administrative draft of the General Plan in mid-January, with working groups getting a crack at that version in February.

Work on the environmental review for the General Plan update will follow that, allowing more opportunities to comment.

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