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Roadblock for proposed rural development rules? 

A controversial proposal to revamp SLO County's rules for new subdivisions in rural areas has too many flaws and should be halted, according to advisory committees from around the county.

The Rural Planned Development Ordinance a change in the county's land-use ordinance is due to be considered by the Board of Supervisors at its Dec. 19 meeting. The ordinance spent more than a year going to rural community advisory councils for comments.

A staff report to the supervisors recommends that the proposed ordinance should be scrapped, or if supervisors vote to continue processing it an environmental impact report should be prepared because the proposal has the potential to cause significant impacts to the environment.

At the heart of the issue are the thousands of legal lots, sometimes called paper lots or antiquated subdivisions, that were drawn on paper a century or more ago. Most of these lots underlie the county's open spaces and agricultural lands.

"We don't even know how many of these underlying legal lots there are, or where they are. Often they don't make sense with the lay of the land they can be in a creek bed, or on the side of a very steep hill, or be so small they can't be developed," said John Nall, principal environmental specialist with the county's Planning and Building Department, who prepared the staff report.

His report recommends that the troublesome issue should be referred to a newly formed Blue Ribbon Committee created to study the county Transfer Development Credit program, which moves development from outlying rural areas to urban areas. Its 15 members represent agriculturists, developers, environmental groups, city planners, and community advisory groups.

Earlier this month, the SLO County Farm Bureau sent a letter asking supervisors instead to set up a new committee to study the proposed Rural Planned Development (RPD) Ordinance.

The proposed RPD Ordinance was crafted outside of the public eye by Paso Robles surveyor Tom Vaughan and supervisors Harry Ovitt and Katcho Achadjian. An Ovitt aide said that meetings were open to the public, but attendance was nonexistent.

The proposal has drawn criticism for its potential to turn the county's rural lands into ranchettes. Proponents, however, say it would create more orderly development.

"It appears the intent of the proposed amendment is to allow for greater flexibility and design to facilitate residential development," the county Agriculture Department stated in its comments, adding, "The proposal may have potential significant effects on agricultural resources and operations due to the increased potential for residential development and subdivisions throughout the rural portions of the county."

Environmental Specialist Nall reported to supervisors in June 2005 that development allowed by the proposed ordinance "could adversely affect agriculture, aesthetics, air quality, biological resources, geology, water availability, traffic, and public services."

An environmental impact report on the proposal could cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said in a recent interview.

Community advisory councils that voted to ask the county to stop processing the RPD ordinance include Templeton, Santa Margarita, South County/Nipomo, and Shandon. Coastal areas were not asked to comment because the ordinance would not apply to land under the jurisdiction of the Coastal Commission.

Other advisory councils that called for the ordinance to be abandoned include the Agricultural Liaison Board, the Agricultural Preserve Review Committee, and the Water Resources Advisory Committee, as well as the Nipomo Community Services District.

"Scrap this unworkable and destructive plan, and form a committee, balanced with members that reflect the makeup of our community, to develop a plan that will protect our rural heritage," wrote the Shandon Area Advisory Committee.

The issue is scheduled to be discussed by the Board of Supervisors in the afternoon on Dec. 19.


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