Few Happy With Forest Rezoning : Planning: Supervisors compromise to allow 20-acre private lots in Cleveland National Forest.
The County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday finished an overhaul of zoning regulations for more than 50,000 acres of privately held land within the Cleveland National Forest that environmentalist critics say will lead to ruinous development in the rugged backcountry region.
But some property owners were not satisfied with the plan either, contending that the supervisors’ decision de-valued much of their land.
In a 3-2 vote, with Supervisors John MacDonald and Susan Golding dissenting, the board completed an updating of the general plan for the Central Mountain Region, restricting development on most of the privately owned parcels sprinkled throughout the forest to one lot per 20 acres.
Forest conservationists, led by Duncan McFetridge, chairman of Save Our Forest and Ranchland, had demanded zoning of one home per 80 acres. They maintain that, in time, development will become economical on the smaller parcels, leading to the destruction of animal habitats and the pristine quality of the forest.
“It will ruin it,” said activist Nancy Schum, “if you have all this checker-boarding, this quilting, (of homes) in the forest, and if you have human inhabitants, with roads, garbage and domestic animals.”
“It’s only a matter of time,” said McFetridge. “This is prime land. There are certain lands that ought not have houses on them at all, period.”
The islands of private property situated throughout the area date from the turn of the century, before the sprawling forest and the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park were consolidated in public hands.
Environmental activists also criticized decisions to retain current zoning designations of as small as one home per 4 acres on parcels near the so-called “country towns” of Descanso, Cuyamaca and Pine Valley and main transportation routes such as Interstate 8 and California 79.
They claimed that such zoning arrangements for a proposed 17-home, 91-acre development off I-8 near Descanso, and the proposed 125-home, 714-acre Roberts Ranch, will bring suburban sprawl to the forest’s gateway.
In October, the supervisors rejected developer Julie Dillon’s plan for the Roberts Ranch, but she can alter it and resubmit it.
County planner Dick Miura contended that the 20-care zoning will effectively keep development out of the forest.
“Essentially, with 20 acres, you accomplish the same thing,” he said “Nobody’s going to go out and develop 20-acre lots.”
Miura added that smaller lots and more intense development are appropriate near the towns and transportation routes, but noted that a 4-acre lot is still a huge chunk of property.
Supervisor Brian Bilbray also endorsed the compromise as protecting most of the forest, noting that existing zoning dating from 1979 calls for lots of 4 and 8 acres. He called the 20-acre designation “the greatest down-zone, the most Draconian elimination of development rights, in the history of this region.”
“People have a right to live in the most pristine areas,” said developer Andrew Peterson, who is overseeing the 91-acre project next to the Roberts Ranch. Eighty-acre lots would have created “an elitist community where only the very rich” would be able to live, he added.
Meanwhile, Dillon, who is negotiating to sell her 714 acres to the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Lands, said she is satisfied with the restrictions placed on her property but said the 20-acre zoning devalues other property owners’ parcels to the point that there is little incentive to sell the land for preservation.
“People aren’t going to sell at the devalued rate,” she said.