A proposed Scenic Landscape designation is painting an ugly picture for some north county residents.
The possible zoning designation would cover a large swath of land along the northeast side of the county, expanding the current designation that runs roughly down the Highway 101 corridor to Lake County.
The designation would put restrictions on the visibility of buildings, grading of slopes and tree removal.
At the Dry Creek Valley Citizens Advisory Council (DCVCAC) on July 18, residents and councilmembers shared their concerns at the layer of zoning.
The DCVCAC expressed concern that not enough had been done to inform the public and involved county entities. The DCVCAC boundaries include the western part of the overlay’s expansion. The council’s general boundaries are between Cloverdale and Healdsburg and stretches to the west to Austin Creek.
The council felt it hadn’t been informed of the designation and only added it to the agenda for discussion at the last minute after hearing about it through non-county channels.
“I think it’s ridiculous that they’re pushing this through without community outreach,” Vicki Farrow said.
Members of the public also spoke out, claiming that it was another unneeded layer of bureaucracy that could cost residents in terms of their properties’ value.
Eileen O’Farrell said she was writing the county to try to have the
designation halted, adding that it would add to future development cost as well as covering several other specific issues.
Possible costs for design reviews due to the scenic landscape designation would range from $152 to $1,900, according to Permit Sonoma.
A request to Fourth District Supervisor James Gore for comment was unanswered as of press time.
Permit Sonoma Communications Manager Maggie Fleming said outreach had been performed.
“Mailed notification was sent to affected property owners prior to the public workshop at Planning Commission held in May. Staff has prepared informational resources available at the project webpage, and project staff have diligently addressed public inquiries on the project by phone and email,” she said.
Other entities named as being part of the process were Geyserville Planning Committee, Sonoma County Farm Bureau, Greenbelt Alliance, NorBar and city of Cloverdale staff.
Fleming added that outreach is ongoing and that a final meeting on the area has yet to be scheduled.
“The project must return to Planning Commission for recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, and the board will hold a subsequent public hearing for final decision. These hearings have not yet been scheduled,” she said.
One of the main reasons the council expressed concern was the perceived conflict the zoning overlay would have with fire mitigation efforts.
“Since the fires, I think it’s time to re-examine what we want,” DCVCAC President Jenny Gomez said.
Gomez was referring to the proposal’s goals of “minimizing the removal of trees and mature vegetation” and to add landscaping to “substantially screen structures from view.”
She said these goals do not line up with fire mitigation that calls for the removal of trees and other thick vegetation in order to create fire breaks. She also noted that she’s seen some of this mitigation work done haphazardly, which led to confusion as to whether scenic goals would overrule fire protection.
These concerns were echoed in public comment. It was also added that grading slopes could help with fire prevention and fire apparatus access in rural areas.
Again, Fleming’s comment disagrees.
“These land use policies are not in conflict, but it should be noted that nothing in these design criteria supersede any other department or agency’s requirements for health and safety,” she said.
The Permit Sonoma FAQ sheet also states that “Any plantings for screening and maintenance of existing vegetation must be consistent with the Vegetation Management Plan” as required by fire officials for high-risk areas.
Fleming said that the scenic overlay is consistent with the county’s General Plan and its design criteria are based in the plan’s policies.
House on the hill
“When you build a house, you want it to have a view,” O’Farrell said. “You don’t want to build in a ditch.”
The Scenic Landscape Unit Expansion would “on hills and ridges, avoid structures that project above the silhouette of the hill against the sky as viewed from public roads.”
O’Farrell took issue with this statement and its implication that houses on the skyline are ugly. She said she has driven down many a California road and seen houses up high and never thought they were ugly. Several in the public nodded their heads.
O’Farrell was concerned that any new building would be so restricted in a generally hilly area that it would not be a desirable location. She said that she knows of pieces of property that have ideal spots to have homes that likely would never be built with this designation.
It was then brought up that again, priorities need to be set, as to whether the housing shortage in the state is more important than seeing a house built too high up.
Fleming’s responded, saying, “The design-related policies are oriented toward preserving scenic views from public vantage points.”
She further elaborated why a combination of siting and landscaping would be implemented, though the public view versus the private view from the other way could still be affected despite her statement.
“Landscape screening is often the appropriate tool to reduce scenic impacts, so screening is intended to shield views (with native vegetation) from public vantages, not necessarily to restrict views for property owners,” she said.
The DCVCAC meets monthly. To get on its email list, email Secretary Sharon Pillsbury at email@example.com. To check out the zoning overlay, go to the Permit Sonoma website.