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Rural community-center wrangles to be heard by Placer planning panel

Planning chief wants full public airing of issues before commission
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Agricultural-zoned landowners seeking ?community center? status for private parties and other functions under Placer County zoning regulations are being bumped up a notch to the planning commission for initial consideration. The wineries ? Wise Villa Winery, Rock Hill Winery and Gold Hill Gardens ? all have applications in the county planning pipeline that were to be heard by the county zoning administrator, a staff member who could have approved a minor-use permit to allow the centers to operate legally. Instead, Michael Johnson, director of the county?s Community Development/Resources Agency, has made a determination that ? because of concerns raised about the community center designation ? he is directing that the applications go forward to the planning commission for a public hearing. The planning director has the ability to refer minor-use permit applications that typically are considered by the zoning administrator when there are unique or unusual circumstances, Johnson said. Moving the permit applications to the planning commission agenda will assure the highest level of public review and scrutiny, Johnson said. The commission decision can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. ?Because the planning commission represents broad community interests, I have concluded the community is best served having the planning commission act as the decision-making body on ?community center? uses,? Johnson said. On the question of a moratorium for permits, Johnson said that would be a Board of Supervisors decision. ?The current process allows for public input and if there is a challenge, it would be to the Board of Supervisors,? Johnson said. On Thursday, two of the applications ? for Rock Hill Winery in Loomis and Gold Hill Gardens in the Newcastle area ? were to be given consideration. Because of the Johnson dictum, the Gold Hill Gardens application before the zoning administrator was cancelled and will now be heard before the planning commission. Marilyn Jasper, whose Placer Sierra Club group is questioning the designations, said that the county needs to take the next step and redefine the community-center designation to prevent a proliferation of large event centers in rural areas. ?We?re hoping to have a temporary stay on any approvals to redefine the parameters,? Jasper said. Don DuPont, of Rock Hill Winery, said he?s still confident that his event center will gain approval and become a positive community addition. ?People will want a blend of agriculture and entertainment,? DuPont said. ?I really think if you just want a bottle of wine, you can go to Costco and stay home and drink it.? Later Thursday, the Newcastle-Ophir Municipal Advisory Council heard from several speakers on the Gold Hill Gardens plan and then postponed a decision until its next monthly meeting. The Gold Hill plans would allow a community center, bed and breakfast, farm-stay housing, a nursery and on-site garden tours. It would ultimately allow for 200-person events on a seasonal basis, between the months of April and October. Plans call for a 5,250 square-foot event center at 2325 Gold Hill Road in Newcastle. Owner Mike Carson said he?ll also be taking the plan to the Lincoln advisory council for review. ?Whatever it takes to go through the process,? Carson said. ?It?s been almost a year already.? Nearby residents expressed concerns about noise, traffic, drunken drivers and loss of the rural atmosphere. Newcastle?s Virgil Buckner described the Gold Hill plan as a ?misuse of agricultural zoning.? ?We listen to the frogs and when there?s an event at night at the Grange Hall a half-mile away, we hear it, loud and clear,? Buckner said. ?We don?t want to hear it in two directions.?