Tom Gogola, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN It would be inaccurate to say that the fire-limiting qualities of so-called urban growth boundaries and community separators were vindicated in the North Bay fires.
After all, as Teri Shore notes, the catastrophic Tubbs fire swept through the Fountaingrove neighborhood, crossed the community separator there, jumped into Santa Rosa’s urban growth boundary (UGB) and then burned it up.
Shore, regional director at the Greenbelt Alliance, has embraced UGBs and community separators. Urban growth boundaries took root decades ago in places like San Jose, Boulder, Colo., and Sonoma County as part of a new urbanism vernacular of “livable cities,” “walkable cities,” “resilient cities” and other sobriquets to indicate a civic emphasis on high-density development in order to keep the surrounding lands pristine in their agricultural and biodiverse glory—as they set out to reduce sprawl, not for fire protection per se, but to save farms and communities and local cultures. The community separators indicate the area between developed areas which comprise the urban growth boundary.
It would be a “huge leap to say that the community separator or urban growth boundary could have prevented [the fires],” Shore says. “On the other hand, it could have been worse if we had built more outside of the city boundaries.”
In other words, the regional UGBs may have played a role in the fires akin to the “chicken soup rule” when you’re sick: in the event of a catastrophic fire, UGBs can’t hurt, and they might even help limit the damage to property.
“We’re thinking through it,” says Shore of the relationship between preventing fires and the rebuilding path forward, and the role of greenbelts in the rebuild.
“I don’t know if there’s a correlation,” she says, “but clearly keeping our growth within the town and cities, instead of sprawling out, potentially reduces the impact from wildfires.”
Read more at: Blazing Speed | News | North Bay Bohemian
J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Plans to revive and revamp shuttered lodging and event grounds off Old Redwood Highway are being met with resistance from Sonoma County environmentalists who say the project will encroach on rural lands voters eight months ago overwhelmingly agreed to protect from large-scale development.
The project would transform more than 20 acres just north of Santa Rosa into a new business called Solstice Sonoma, envisioned by San Francisco architect Kevin Skiles and his partners as a modern yet rural getaway for weddings and retreats, and for others seeking an escape barely removed from city services and Highway 101.
Originally developed as part of the Cloverleaf Ranch camp and horseback riding school next door, the site is located within one of the buffer zones between cities that received an additional 20 years of protection through the passage of Measure K last year.
Known technically as community separators, the buffer zones remain subject to longstanding county rules requiring voter approval of large new projects such as major housing tracts, shopping malls or other commercial developments.
Proponents contend the Solstice plans are in keeping with county land-use rules, including Measure K. Construction would be hidden behind a hill covered in grapevines, rendering the new development invisible to passing motorists, and the site was used for decades as a camp and event facility.
But critics say the proposed construction goes far beyond what land-use rules allow in rural buffer zones and what voters agreed to in November. They see the project as a key test of the strength of Measure K, which passed with more than 81 percent of the vote.
“This project definitely pushes the envelope,” said Teri Shore, regional director for the North Bay office of Greenbelt Alliance, which spearheaded the ballot measure. “This is one of the last visible green buffers between Santa Rosa and Windsor.”
Parts of the project were evaluated Wednesday by Sonoma County’s Design Review Committee, which still needs to hold at least one more meeting to consider the proposed design in more detail. That committee does not have any land-use authority — ultimately, the county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments will need to approve or deny the project, a step at least a few months away. The zoning board’s decision can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors.
Read more at: Ex-Cloverleaf Ranch site proposal sparks debate over rural buffer zones | The Press Democrat
Teri Shore, GREENBELT ALLIANCE
In a big year-end win for greenbelts, all five Sonoma County supervisors came out strongly in favor of extending voter protections for community separators and adding to them in 2016! Community separators are one of the important tools protecting the greenbelt lands between Sonoma’s cities and towns from sprawl development.
In a room filled with about 50 supporters wearing “Strengthen Community Separators” stickers, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to develop a ballot measure for November 2016 to renew county community separators. See the front page Press Democrat article for more.
All five supervisors also made a commitment to consider adding as many as 22,000 acres of priority greenbelts to community separators in a parallel public process through the General Plan. Hear it in their own words in this short KRCB radio interview. WHAT THE SUPERVISORS AGREED TO DO NEXT YEAR Ballot Measure: The Sonoma County supervisors voted unanimously to develop a ballot measure to extend voter protections for the county’s eight community separators for the November 2016 general election.
The supervisors agreed to extend voter protections to existing and future community separators between unincorporated communities for 30 years, a strong new policy that opens the door to community separators between places like Forestville and Graton.
They decided to keep the voter protections linked to urban growth boundaries. The revised policy maintains voter protections for community separators in perpetuity – as long as a city maintains voter protections for its Urban Growth Boundary. A uniform long-term expiry date for all community separators are more protective by preventing lapses in voter protections.
They did not agree to add any new designations through the ballot measure. General Plan Amendment: The supervisors voted to designate priority greenbelts and consider designating other at-risk county lands by amending the General Plan in a parallel public process in 2016 for adoption no later than January 2017.
Please note that they will consider adding more than 22,000 acres of Sonoma County lands that qualify as priority greenbelts by the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. The final acreage will be determined through the public process. Lands around Penngrove and Cloverdale will also be considered.
The supervisors agreed to modify some of the policies including the “commercial development” loophole that has allowed several community separators to shrink.
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County voters next year may be asked to renew environmental protections that for almost 20 years have shielded 17,000 acres of county farmland and open space from development.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is set to consider placing on the November 2016 ballot an initiative to extend the county’s community separators, voter-backed scenic buffers between urban areas approved in the late 1990s that expire next year.
Community separators dot the Highway 101 corridor from Healdsburg to south of Petaluma and include pockets east of Santa Rosa, in the Springs area and outside Sebastopol. Together with similar protections enacted by most cities over the past two decades, growth has been steered into existing development patterns within city boundaries.
But environmental advocates say with regional pressure to build new housing and population growth — the number of people living in the nine-county Bay Area swelled to nearly 7.6 million last year, a 1.3 percent increase from July 2013 to July 2014 — those separators could be at risk of being developed with large-scale housing projects and businesses.
“If these expire, the county could issue permits for development on the fringe of urban areas,” said Dennis Rosatti, executive director of Sonoma County Conservation Action, the county’s largest environmental organization. “We don’t want to see that happen.”
Rosatti said he and others are concerned about large multi-unit apartment buildings and commercial development encroaching on agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands, and losing the distinct separation that exists between most cities in the county.
Conservation Action and other high-profile environmental groups are steering a campaign to convince the Board of Supervisors to extend the current protections for 30 more years through a ballot measure.
They are also pushing the county to expand protections on 22,081 additional acres by amending its land-use policy in the general plan. Those areas could include scenic hillsides, meadows and river basins between Rohnert Park and Petaluma, stretching east to Sonoma Valley.
Other proposals include designating additional acres around Cloverdale and Healdsburg as community separators. At present, community separators do not extend north of Healdsburg.
Read more: Sonoma County may ask voters to continue greenbelts | The Press Democrat
Right outside city boundaries, more than 17,000 acres of land in Sonoma County has been put off limits to most development for more than a quarter-century to reduce sprawl, protect farmland and natural habitat and provide some scenic buffer between urban areas that most county residents call home.
But some of the curbs that established those so-called community separators, first adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 1989 and strengthened by two voter-approved ballot measures in the late 1990s, are set to expire at the end of next year. Their enactment decades ago marked a key win for the county’s environmental movement, with current leaders making it a top priority to see the protections renewed.
So far, however, they haven’t had the reception they’d hoped for from the Board of Supervisors, which has balked at fully endorsing an extension at the ballot box in 2016. The issue could become a key one in races for three board seats up for election next year.
Teri Shore, the North Bay’s director for the Greenbelt Alliance, an environmental group spearheading the campaign, said a September poll shows that there is widespread public support for extending the protections indefinitely. They currently exist outside most cities and towns in the county, except for Cloverdale and Penngrove, where supporters hope to enact new limits.
Waffling by supervisors could undermine the protections, Shore said.“Without the voter-backed initiatives, the community separators are weaker and at risk of being developed because supervisors could easily change them,” Shore said. “These are important, major protections that shield open space and agricultural lands from development, and they keep Sonoma County from sprawling from city to city like you see in other parts of the Bay Area or Los Angeles.”
The issue is re-emerging as housing costs in the county continue to escalate, putting pressure on elected leaders to fast-track construction of units, especially for working- and middle-class families.
Read more at: Amid housing crunch, push to renew Sonoma County’s | The Press Democrat
Jason Walsh, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE
Take heed, Sonoma. Don’t let our quirky little community character cross-pollinate with our, how shall we say, “less desirable” neighbors of the North Bay. You know the ones: Napa to the east, Santa Rosa to the west.
Heaven forbid, the land Hap Arnold called home is ever diluted by encroachment from our southern friends in, egad, Novato.
But that’s what’s at stake if the 20-year-old “community separator” designations are allowed to expire in 2016.
Community separators are just that: areas that separate communities. They’re lands zoned to act as open space buffers between neighboring communities – to prevent the type of overdevelopment that, when not held in check, can create suburban sprawl which results in, as Teri Shore of the Greenbelt Alliance describes, “city running into city running into city – like you (see) in San Jose.”
Of course, with all-do respect to our friends in the “Capital of Silicon Valley” it would take a lot of horrific city planning decisions for Sonoma to wind up with anything like San Jose’s 25-plus “neighborhoods,” former towns that the city annexed mid-20th century to increase its tax base. (1960s-ers City Manager “Dutch” Hamann vowed to turn San Jose into “another Los Angeles.”)
Now, Sonoma is nowhere near that level of suburban hegemony (though some have had their eye on a tasty little morsel called the Springs over the years). But that doesn’t mean community separators aren’t still important.
Read more at: Editorial: Community separators – nature’s bulwark against the | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma News, Entertainment, Sports, Real Estate, Events, Photos, Sonoma, CA