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November, 2003

Hyatt Family Compound On Ag Land Approved By Supes
By Elena Belsky

Who is caretaking the vision of the Marin Countywide Plan (CWP)? Agricultural properties are now regularly being placed in jeopardy by the desire for trophy homes. Is simply granting grazing rights to rancher enough to fulfill the CWP's mandate of "agriculture as a primary use" for what is essentially a residential use? What do we want the future of the small, locally owned Marin farm to be? Is the gain of conservation easements to what the CWP says we are already entitled-agricultural land for agricultural use-a fair exchange for trophy homes or large scale compounds that may exclude small farms from West Marin's future? Current trends raise many questions for the future of west Marin land use and sustainable agriculture.

The Pritzker family, which owns the Hyatt Hotel chain, won approval for a development including three houses of 8000, 4000 and 3500 square feet-each with two kitchens (perhaps to be turned into duplexes at a later date?), a workers unit of 800 square feet, a pool house, barns, maintenance buildings, and multiple accessory structures.

While the development was reduced before approval, it still is significantly out of character with the community as well as flying in the face of the Agricultural Policies of the countywide plan. Average home size in the area ranges from 800 square foot former summer cabins to modest homes of 1600 square feet, with some newer homes at 3000 square feet. The Pritzker compound is a total of 27,645 square feet of development in multiple residential units.

Ag and Enviro Protests Continue

Neighbors, ranchers, environmental groups and Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) protested loudly over this "super-sized" development and the endangerment of agricultural land from lack of CWP policy enforcement. Once the project was approved, some of those who cried foul, called for changes to agricultural zoning to tighten up preservation of farmland and to prevent 'hobby farms' or large compounds such as this one from gradually taking over land that is deemed under the CWP to be used for purely agricultural purposes. What few people seem to realize is that County agricultural zoning has already been changed. Just last June Supervisor Kinsey led a little noticed, but major change in the substance of agricultural zoning, increasing development options on agricultural parcels and loosening environmental protections.

Ignoring Countywide Plan Policies an Emerging Trend

Constant reinterpretation of CWP policies seem to be the tactic at the County, as new ordinances are being created, and new project precedents approved which disagree with the County's main legal planning document. Under California planning law, a County's general plan (e.g., our CWP) is the guiding legal planning document, to which ALL other regulations and policies must adhere. Yet our County continues to generate conflicting ordinances and off-base interpretations of the CWP.

Recently, Supervisor Kinsey led the Development Code revisions to Agricultural zoning, adding many more "allowed uses" while removing public process, oversight, master plans and environmental review. Agricultural lands are now being offered up for industrial buildings, additional homes, guest homes, second units, retail uses, recreational uses, religious facilities and much more.

Ironically, in light of the outspoken condemnation of the Pritzker approval, Supervisor Kinsey promised to apply the "best thinking" of County planning staff to the problem of improving County agricultural regulations-as if revisions had not just been completed that favor developments like the Pritzker compound!

Normally County codes lag behind CWP updates. After a CWP is approved, planners gradually revise the codes to bring them into line with the most recent CWP. So, with a new CWP update process in full swing, most watchdogs were not monitoring the code revision process for new alterations. But, in that quiet space, new code was crafted that departs from the most recent CWP.

The cumulative effect will be that the County's failure to explicitly address CWP policies before approving a project shows lack of vision and lack of sound planning by the County and Supervisor Kinsey in particular, as our West Marin representative.

Giving Away Our Farming Future?

If trophy home builders decide to sell their properties, who can now afford to buy them; these properties with swimming pools, luxury stables and extraordinarily expensive homes? Local ranchers? Small business farmers? Not likely. So the former agricultural parcel is now firmly in the trophy home, residential real estate realm, and the CWP agricultural vision has been forever subverted for the property.

Allowing grazing on the remaining land, by other people, should not qualify as an agricultural use by what are strictly residential homeowners. In the long run, it does nothing to truly preserve agricultural land.

Sweetening the pot by offering conservation easements and giving up development rights are appropriate concessions; on the other hand, in the long-term, it will not preserve agricultural land. Preservation provisions are already built into the CWP. It only serves as a facade behind which to allow a trophy home on agricultural land. Once placed into the trophy home category, even with all the negotiated "perks" it will remain residential, not primarily agricultural, in perpetuity.

The vision of the Marin Countywide Plan (CWP) is being destroyed one parcel at a time.

Sublet and Rent-a-Rancher Techniques

Two other landowners recently attempted to use this "sublet and rent a rancher" technique to gain support of their residential only trophy home development proposals on agriculturally zoned land on the Tomales Bay. The first trophy home of Hansen/Brubaker was approved by the Board of Supervisors, as led again by Kinsey's negotiations, but at the final approval stage, the State Coastal Commission's staff wrote a scathing report that prompted the applicant to withdraw immediately. The second trophy home proposal, by a different landowner (Moritz) was quickly pulled off the table as well in light of the Coastal Commission's response.

The main difference between the Pritzker compound and these other two proposals is that the latter are in the Coastal Zone and under the final jurisdiction of the Coastal Commission. Who obviously are willing to protect the agricultural and coastal vision entrusted to them.

Summary

The County of Marin, led in West Marin by Kinsey, is failing to protect agricultural parcels. The CWP is clear in intent and word: agriculture lands should remain PRIMARILY for agricultural uses. Trophy home compounds, light industrial facilities, and subdivisions do NOT qualify under this criteria even IF developers let others run a few head of cattle on the land and offer ag conservation easements.

Bringing the countywide plan vision into reality means enforcing the intent of the law. Clearly the decision makers are not willing to do so-and are subsequently placing agricultural parcels in jeopardy for increased development. We need to preserve our valuable agricultural heritage by promoting REAL sustainable local agriculture and preserving the land for true, viable, local small agricultural businesses.

 

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