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Sierra County Adopts Water Resource Ordinances

posted Sep 25, 2012, 4:18 PM by Stevee Duber

Downieville---On September 4, 2012 the Sierra County Board of Supervisors approved and adopted a suite of regulations entitled Water Resources Ordinances. This is a major step in satisfying the settlement agreement reached in November 2010 between the High Sierra Rural Alliance and the County. It is also a major step in implementing the Sierra County General Plan adopted in 1996. 

The Ordinances specify where development can occur in relation to streams, lakes, wetlands and other water resources. Consistent with the General Plan, the ordinances relax setbacks within Community Areas. For instance, in the old code, all development had to be 100 feet from the 100-year floodplain of a river. Meaning just about everyone in Downieville and Sierraville needed a variance. Now, in those communities, development need only be 50 feet from the seasonal high water line of the river.

 “This is a great first step in finally implementing the General Plan,” said HSRA spokesperson, Stevee Duber. “A lot of people think development in Sierra County has been hindered by the General Plan, but really the problem is that the County is using an antiquated Zoning Code which is inconsistent with the General Plan.”

In 1973 Sierra County borrowed a Zoning Code developed for a rural Sacramento Valley County. According to Sierra County Planning Director, “the 1973 Zoning Code has been tinkered with from time to time,” but without changing much except the name of the county, Sierra County uses the vintage code to regulate land use. For eight years HSRA has been fighting to get the Sierra County General Plan implemented through an update of the Zoning Code.

 “In a lot of instances the 1973 regulations don’t make sense in a mountainous environment with a small population. The confusion has frustrated a lot of projects,” Duber stated. “It’s the Zoning Code not the General Plan which has caused problems for development in Sierra County.”

The County is now in the process of updating the Zoning Code. The Board of Supervisors hired a consultant last February to rectify technical problems with the General Plan and draft a consistent Zoning Code. The Zoning Code comprises the regulations which implement the policies of the General Plan.

Adoption of the Sierra County General Plan in 1996 came after a rigorous public process which included over 50 public meetings and environmental review. The Plan had broad public support and garnered awards and accolades. “We’re excited to see the County moving forward on implementing and extending the 1996 General Plan,” said Duber. “The Plan protects the rural character of Sierra County by keeping development focused around community areas and protecting vital resources such as water, timber and agriculture.”