Requirements for non-agriculture uses in county ag-zoned land will in most cases be reduced or eliminated, following Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors action Tuesday evening.
New construction in county agricultural land will no longer require vegetative screening and solid fencing, low people intensive uses will no longer require buffers, and adjacent non-agricultural uses in ag-zoned land may be considered part of a buffer.
The old setback rules, intended to provide a buffer between agriculture and subdivisions, were first implemented during a 2007 update of the county General Plan. But the required buffers and vegetative screening to prevent pesticide drift were required in many more instances, per the letter of the law.
“Unfortunately, we found in implementing this the unintended consequences,” Supervisor Jim DeMartini said.
Even ag related uses in ag-zoned land were required to construct buffers. DeMartini gave the example of an almond huller, built in the middle of an almond orchard, which was still asked to build vegetative screening and buffers.
In many cases where buffers were warranted, those buffers were found to be less effective at screening development than planned, given the long time the vegetative screening can take to grow.
Additionally, the county Agricultural Advisory Board found itself constantly dealing with appeals of the statute, distracting the board from its true mission.
“The Agricultural Advisory Board is not meant to be a planning commission, and that’s one of the things that was happening,” said Tom Orvis, vice chair of the Stanislaus County Agricultural Advisory Board.
Nearly 50 appeals came before the board since the measure’s passage. With the change, proposals for alternatives will go before the County Planning Commission.
The measure will not prevent the county from requiring vegetative screening, solid fencing, or other buffers as needed on a project-by-project basis.
Supervisors acknowledged the new setback requirements may still have some issues; the “low people intensive” moniker, used to describe uses which are exempt from buffers, is entirely subjective. But supervisors considered the changes an improvement, which could be further yet improved.
“It’s a work in process,” Supervisor Vito Chiesa said. “... If this needs further revisions, this may not be the end of it.”
Robinson’s final meeting
Retiring Stanislaus County Chief Executive Officer Rick Robinson led his last Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday night, concluding a six-year run where he managed an ever-growing county through the final years of a housing boom and a quickly-shrinking government during the long, ensuing recession.
Per county tradition, he was gifted a clock upon his retirement.
“Time still goes on,” Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dick Monteith said. “There’s still more to life. Enjoy it.”
Robinson, who served as Stanislaus County CEO since 2004, will conclude his tenure with the county on Dec. 31. He will be replaced by current county Assistant Executive Officer Monica Nino, who has worked for Stanislaus County for more than 23 years.
Robinson’s leadership, mentorship, and teaching abilities were credited by staff and supervisors alike – who were, in turn, credited by Robinson for their own efforts.
In addition to his work as a CEO, Robinson was noted for his poetic addresses; in honor of his departure, Chiesa offered a poem entitled “The Skipper.” But Robinson himself got the last word of the meeting, reading his final poem from the dais.
“Now here comes the curtain, / It’s been a great ride; / It’s finally time / That I step aside,” Robinson said.
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