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County to revisit farmland mitigation

POSTED September 23, 2009 12:06 a.m.
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors isn’t finished fighting new residential development on agricultural-zoned land.
The Board decided Tuesday to appeal a June Stanislaus County Superior Court decision that determined a county rule intended to conserve farmland was unconstitutional.
The decision to appeal came in closed session Tuesday morning, by a vote of 3 to 2. Chairman Jim DeMartini and Supervisors Vito Chiesa and Jeff Grover supported the motion, while Supervisors Bill O’Brien and Dick Monteith opposed.
The initial county rule, as approved by the Board of Supervisors in a 3-2 vote in December 2007, called upon residential developers to preserve an equal amount of farmland as would be taken up by any 20 acre or larger housing project.
The county spent two years developing the rule, but the Building Industry Association of Central California took just a month to file a challenge to the law in January 2008. The BIA took issue with the fact that only residential developers were included in the statute, while commercial and industrial uses were allowed with no requirement for developers to preserve agricultural land.
The Superior Court found the legislation to be in violation of California law, as the state disallows required conservation easements.
Steve Madison, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Central California, was startled to learn that the county would elect to appeal Judge William A. Mayhew’s decision.
“We’re surprised that, in the current economic environment, the board would use taxpayer money to continue to pursue a policy that the courts found to be flawed,” Madison said.
Madison argued that the county would have been better off developing a new policy in concordance with the law — and the preservation needs within the county.
Madison said the BIA holds some disdain for one-to-one ag land mitigation, believing it paints a broad stroke over all agricultural land.
He noted that, as the county statute calls for mitigation based on zoning and not by soil classification, it would do little to preserve valuable farmland. Under the current plan, developers could simply build as they wished, then purchase cheap land with poor soil to offset their ag preservation requirement.
“I think they should have gone back to the drawing board,” Madison said.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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