The tentative map for the controversial housing project proposed for the Riverbend Estates Subdivision in Colusa got a one-year extension during last week’s meeting of the City of Colusa Planning Commission, despite the concerns regarding levee seepage and drainage issues raised by nearby residents.
Simply put, the planning commission, which voted 3-1-1 to approve the extension of the tentative map, indicated that their hands were tied.
Under the state’s Subdivision Map Act, City Planner Bryan Stice explained, a local agency – in this case, the planning commission – may condition or deny a permit, approval, extension or entitlement if it determines that a failure to do so would place the residents of the subdivision or the immediate community, or both, in a condition dangerous to their health or safety, or both; or that the condition or denial is required in order to comply with state or federal law.
Stice said that city staff had come to the determination that the neither was the case with this project.
“In a nutshell, the city engineer has drafted the condition of approval, which requires that the developers provide a specific, detailed, and verifiable engineered plan to address the seepage water that is out there, the storm drainage water,” Stice said. “The position of city staff is that we’ve reviewed numerous accounts of engineered data, information, studies, that have not been invalidated by city engineer review or peer review. They’ve been supported by peer review. Conversely, we have not received any credible evidence or peer studies from opponents of the project, or individuals contesting the ability of the site to drain… In summary, absent any other evidence, data, or studies from the opponents of the drainage, we have no choice but to go with the information we have, and to follow the professional opinion of our city engineer.”
When asked by Planning Commissioner Brendan Farrell if anything had changed with the site that would require the commission to now deny the map extension, such as an issue with the levee in the area. Stice said that nothing new had been brought to the city’s attention.
Stice said that the “high-river event” last year wasn’t necessarily something new, but was a fresh occurrence of an issue that had already been known to exist when the project was initially approved. While the city engineer was able to quantify the amount of seepage runoff that occurred as a result of the high-river event, the data did not prove that the issue of seepage runoff could not be addressed and mitigated by the developer, Stice added.
“The project has a lot of existing rights under the Map Act,” Stice said. “The Map Act provides protections to the developer that if they follow the city’s subdivision standards, they follow the California Environmental Quality Act, they have rights. We need to have very strong, supportable reasons why we can deny that. All we have is data and information verifying that the project, conceptually, can drain and function, and we have no data to the contrary… We do have to adhere to state law, which is the Map Act and CEQA, all of which have been satisfied.”
He added that the city had previously decided not to approve the project based on CEQA concerns, but that they had been sued and were about to lose that case when they ultimately settled and “paid dearly for it.”
The motion to recommend approval of the extension of the approved tentative map came from Commissioner Brendan Farrell.
“I understand that this is a highly contentious situation, due to the many homes going there, the type of homes going there, the type of development going there, and that’s a lot of the reason that people were opposed to that,” Farrell said. “That fight happened in 2015 and 2012, but the fact was that it was approved, and now that it was, these people have a right to extend their map for a year unless we have a really, really good to say not to, and we expose ourselves and our city to detrimental situations if we simply return to the question… From my opinion, I’ve heard nothing that raises to the level that is required by the law, and by the law, I’m stuck with one way to vote.”
The motion was seconded by Commissioner Ken Flagor Jr., with Dick Armocido casting the lone “no” vote.
What about the Triple Crown project?
Colusa resident John Rogers asked whether the approval of the tentative map was for a residential development or for the Triple Crown Growers cannabis project, which has previously been discussed by the city council.
Stice said that the applicants for the Riverbend Estates project were seeking an extension to their Tentative Map, as the lifespan for the approved tentative map was running out.
“In order to preserve the validity of the map, they are seeking a one year extension,” Stice said. “The request before the commission this evening is completely separate from another request that they have that is kind of on hold right now, which is for the alternate development of a cannabis manufacturing facility. That process is separate, they’ve begun initial environmental review.”
Stice said he expected that the Triple Crown item would come before the planning commission for review within the next six months.
“The applicants are interested in pursuing a map extension because they do not know what the future holds, for one. They don’t know the regulatory climate: The regulatory climate for the cannabis industry is consistently evolving,” Stice said. “Additionally, they don’t know if the project will receive city approval or not. So, they don’t intend to just let their subdivision to die on the vine. Not knowing what the future holds, its in their best interest, as they’ve indicated, to keep the (approved tentative) map valid.”
Planning Commissioner George Parker added that the developers would have to come back at a later date if they wanted to proceed with the Triple Crown Project.