Council declines to hear appeal on Montserrrat

Planning Commission approval of Montserrat tree plan goes ahead
By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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In a precedent-setting decision, the Loomis Town Council voted 3 to 2 not to hold a hearing for an appeal of the planning commission decision on the Montserrat tree mitigation plan. “Council has never voted not to hear an appeal, at least not in the 8 ½ years that I’ve been here,” said Perry Beck, Loomis town manager. At the July 8 council meeting, three appeals were on the agenda for council to decide whether or not to hold hearings. They did vote to hear an appeal of a drainage decision on Brace Road Estates and an appeal on Morgan Estates, the clustered housing development. But Mayor Russ Kelley and Councilmembers Rhonda Morillas and Tom Millward voted not to hear the appeal on the Montserrat tree mitigation plan, while Councilman Walt Scherer, who filed the appeal, and Councilman Miguel Ucovich voted in favor of hearing it. The motion not to hear the appeal was made by Millward and seconded by Morillas. According to Scherer, the tree plan for Montserrat is precedent setting because it is the "first time we'll be employing this tool." Town Manager Beck, in a later interview, explained that the complicated plan requires each Montserrat homeowner to initially put $15,000 into a tree fund. If there are any tree-cutting fees on the initial building site, those fees would also be put into a maintenance and improvement fund for stands of protected trees. Homeowners would still have the option of replanting trees first. Beck said any tree fees that would be imposed in later building on the sites would go to the town. During the council meeting at the commencement of the discussion, Beck posed the question to the council that they need to answer whenever an appeal is made, "Should the council have a hearing for the appeal?" Planning Commissioner Jean Wilson spoke on behalf of the commission when she told the council, "We're gaining a lot with this plan." Wilson cited the addition of protected open space with no cost to the town and said that fire damage would be reduced. Wilson explained that the town Tree Ordinance states that the first preference is to replant felled trees on the site, the second preference is to plant them somewhere else in town and the third is restoration and revegetation. She said that in-lieu fees are only acceptable when none of the other options are feasible. Gary Liss, chairman of the Parks and Open Space Com-mission, addressed the council and asked, "What are the economic consequences to the town of this decision that would affect the desirability of this plan? "What would be the amount of the in-lieu fees? What are the tradeoffs for the town?" Later in the meeting, Wilson said, "Our mission is not to collect money and hope we might use it." The goal is to "improve the overall tree canopy for the town." Councilman Millward said, "The town is not losing any money because these people don't have to pay money if they plant trees. You can't lose any money you don't have." Marilyn Jasper, of Loomis, represented the Sierra Club, Placer Group when she said, "We're concerned with the plan. We think the appeal is appropriate, legitimate and should be heard." Jasper said the Sierra Club concerns were that the plan has "little enforcement value, and the deer fencing protecting the vineyards strays far from the crops." She called the fencing "wildlife blockage" and also said that there was a loss of a water source for the animals. Ucovich was concerned over the "value of the mitigation." He asked: "Is the town getting its money's worth? The planning commission should have addressed this question." Morillas and Kelley both said they approved of the planning commission's decision. "I think they did an absolutely superb job. The town is not going to get shortchanged. This proposal is one of the best programs we have," Kelley said. "They worked hard on this," Morillas said. Scherer spoke numerous times of the right town citizens have of discussing issues with council through the appeal process. After the motion was made to not hear the appeal, Scherer said, "This is a precedent-setting motion. This is the first time that the council, any council, of the Town of Loomis will have denied the public the right to have a decision by their council. That unto itself is a very big precedent."