rules before supervisors
Hearing weighs controversial issue affecting 200,000 acres
BLEYS W. ROSE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Controversial rules governing the process for changing timberland
into vineyards go before Sonoma County supervisors today in
what's likely to lead to a new and more sharply focused fight
over the pace of conversions.
more than three years, conversion of timberland into vineyards
has been a simmering issue between environmentalists who want
them halted and the wine industry that sees profits in the hills
of northwestern Sonoma County.
issue is an estimated 200,000 acres of timberland that, until
now, has had little land use scrutiny because the land has been
more valuable in wood products than in wine grapes.
rising land costs and consumer demand for premium grapes have
prompted developers to cast an eye toward the woodlands north
of Guerneville between Highway 101 and the coast.
a report outlining proposed rules, officials in the Permit and
Resource Management Department said county supervisors must
resolve the central question whether vineyards will be permitted
in "timberland production" zones that also fall under
state forestry regulations.
report from county planning officials acknowledges they have
only rough estimates of timberland acreage that will come under
an ordinance. The amount in these "rural resource"
zones where timber conversion rules will apply has been estimated
between 194,000 and 230,000 acres.
80,000 of those acres are located in timberland production areas
where state forestry rules permit activities such as livestock
grazing because they are compatible with tree growing and harvesting.
These timberland production areas are defined by property owners
seeking lucrative tax breaks for maintaining woodlands, and
the new county zoning rules would apply on almost 96 percent
of these areas.
grazing, vineyards, orchards and other agricultural cultivation
typically require that the timber be removed," David Schiltgen
of the Permit and Resource Management Department said.
said if state law requires a conversion permit, "these
uses would inhibit the growing and harvesting of timber and
thus would not meet the general definition of compatible use."
of several environmental groups Monday complained that proposed
rules do not clearly state that a rezoning permit from the county
and a timberland conversion permit from the state will be necessary
in these timber production zones.
are hoping the language is worked out so the loopholes are closed,"
said Craig Litwin, co-director of Conservation Action.
with the Sierra Club also said they object to the proposed 2-for-1
acre mitigation ratio and 25-foot setback requirement, calling
Anderson, executive director of United Wine Growers of Sonoma
County, said his group would review timberland conversion proposals,
but it was too early to comment because debate on specific regulations
is just starting.
supervisors will hold a hearing on proposed timberland conversion
rules at 2:15 p.m. today at the county administration building.
County attorneys are advising supervisors to send the proposals
back to the planning commission for review and reopening of
Timber Conversion Rules:
Prohibits vineyards on about 4 percent of county timberland
considered host to oldest growth.
county use permit in about 120,000 acres of rural zones.
require county use permit on 80,000 timberland acres in zones
designated by state forestry department.
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