Town debates agricultural review

Environmental review of ag land in subdivisions proposed
By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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The Loomis Planning Commission is considering the requirement of an environmental review for agricultural open space planned within a residential subdivision. According to Perry Beck, town manager, the town council’s review of a recommendation from the Open Space 2 Committee report prompted the directive to planning commission. “They want to require an EIR for something like Montserrat. There aren’t really too many parcels like that left,” Beck said. Beck was referring to Sierra de Montserrat, a 322-acre upscale development with 62 estate-style lots, 67 acres of oak woodland preservation areas, 92 acres of wetland preservation areas and 45 acres of vineyards. Some residents adjacent to Montserrat — including Roger and Irene Smith who spoke at a February council meeting — believe environmental degradation occurred when the land was cleared and prepared for planting and are concerned about pesticides used on the grape vines. Janet Thew, planning commission chairperson, said in an e-mail, “We are not going to be requiring EIRs for ag. Making that claim stirs people up for no reason. EIR’s are only one type of environmental review, and usually not required. “All we’re looking at is possibly requiring that the Town get to look at ag uses in a subdivision, as council recommended, just like any other aspect of a subdivision. “The Town attorney is looking at options to present to us at a future meeting.” Beck said the town council wants to “establish a new policy for agricultural open space that would require environmental review of agricultural operations to ensure that agricultural open space doesn’t lead to environmental degradation when combined with a residential subdivision.” Beck has suggested that a review would only apply to a subdivision of five or more homes. “It doesn’t affect the person living on one acre or 50 acres that wants to grow something, as long as they adhere to the other regulations in the code,” Beck said. Beck suggested to the town attorney that a condition be added to subdivision approvals that would read, “This approval does not include approval for a common agricultural use where all or most of the housing lots will be used for some kind of agricultural venture, for instance vineyard growing. “Such a use would have to be processed through the Town, by an entity such as a homeowner association, as a new project subject to pertinent Town code requirements including environmental review.” Beck said there are two types of environmental reports – focused Environmental Impact Reports and negative declarations. In a memo to the planning commission, Beck wrote, “Environmental reports can cost applicants a comparatively small amount of money in the case of negative declarations ($10,000 to $50,000) versus focused EIRs that would likely run $75,000 plus, depending on special consultants needed. Beck said that Dave Larsen, town attorney, is working on the language for the environmental review requirement and would likely have it done in time for the next planning commission meeting in July. Once the commissioners have come to agreement, their suggestions will be passed on the town council for review and determination.