(See the July 12 20007 article for the full discussion at that point.)
The idea behind mitigation is that any development along the periphery of Davis would require the developer to concurrently set aside twice as many acres to be protected and preserved as agricultural land. Crucial to the agricultural protection is the notion of adjacent mitigation, which means that there would be a quarter mile designated buffer zone along any development that would be designated as a protected land that would have a permanent designated land-use of agricultural. The idea here is that with that buffer zone, you reduce the possibility of developing the next parcel of land and therefore prevent leap frog development and urban sprawl.
In addition to the adjacent mitigation there would be another strip of land protected somewhere else that along with the adjacent strip would account for twice the acreage of that developed. So if you had a 100 acre parcel for development, you would have to mitigate for a total of 200 acres, part of that would be a quarter mile strip adjacent to your developed property and the rest could be wherever you could secure such mitigation within the planning zone.
The idea here is that as you develop outwards, you create a permanent urban limit line by setting aside specific land into permanent mitigation.
The council also directed staff to return with modifications to the minimum mitigation ratio.
At last week’s meeting, Don Saylor, who was originally a skeptic of this proposal back in July, asked a series of tough questions about the need for the quarter-mile adjacent mitigation. Suggesting that it was not viable for farming in the size allotted by the ordinance.
According to Mitch Sears, Davis City Staffer, the idea of adjacency is to address the outward expansion of the city so that larger tracts of farmland are protected.
Don Saylor: “What is this ordinance titled?”
Mitch Sears: “Farmland Protection.”
Don Saylor: “But it’s really something else is what you just said. It’s not agricultural mitigation from what you just said–it’s something else. What was the word you just used?”
Mitch Sears: “Farmland protection.”
Don Saylor: “Earlier when you were describing the reason for the quarter-mile boundary–you said it was something other than agricultural mitigation.”
Mitch Sears: “The primary threat to farmland in the central valley is urban expansion…”
Don Saylor: “So it’s the urban expansion prevention ordinance?”
Mitch Sears: “We’re taking language from the general plan…”
From the General Plan:
“In order to create an effective permanent agricultural and open space buffer on the perimeter of the City… peruse amendments of the Farmland Preservation Ordinance to assure as a baseline standard that new peripheral development projects provide a minimum of 2:1 mitigation along the entire non-urbanized perimeter of the project.
The proposed amendments shall allow for the alternative location of mitigations for such projects including but not limited to circumstances where the project is adjacent to land already protected.”
Don Saylor: “So a permanent agricultural and open space buffer ordinance is what we’re talking about? Because it doesn’t seem like we’re preserving agriculture.”
At this point City Manager Bill Emlen stepped in:
“Obviously it’s got multidimensions to it. There is an agricultural land preservation component to it. Once again I think it gets down to the question about the importance of maintaining urban encroachment to preserve viable farmland.”
Don Saylor: “We’re exempting affordable housing and public use, what’s the rationale for exempting those uses if we’re preserving agriculture and we’re creating this permanent buffer against urban expansion, then are we saying some urban expansion is okay?”
Mitch Sears: “I think it was in recognition of Measure J that has similar exemptions.”
Don Saylor: “So some urban expansion is okay?”
Mitch Sears: “Yeah. The way that the ordinance is constructed doesn’t say that you can’t grow, you grow and there’s a cap essentially put on that next step of urban expansion. That was one of the basis for the general plan action and also for the way the ordinance was envisioned, constructed and analyzed.”
Councilmember Lamar Heystek was one of the chief proponents of this measure.
“We are situated in an agricultural landscape. I think it [this ordinance] makes votes under Measure J more of a balanced presentation. I think that some citizens may subconsciously support a Measure J decision knowing that we’re going to preserve more agricultural land in perpetuity than is being taken away. I think the 2:1 proposal that was presented originally in July was by far the strongest preservation ordinance that had ever been seen by any municipal government in the state. But with council having taken action to say that 2:1 was the absolute minimum that was an even farther leap forward and I commend the council taking that step. We will have the strongest agricultural mitigation ordinance and farmland protection ordinance in the state.”
Councilmember Heystek had previously described this ordinance among his most proud accomplishments of his first year on the council:
“I’m proud that I proposed and successfully fought for the passage of the strictest agricultural mitigation ordinance in the state – one that requires the preservation of two acres of ag land for every acre developed.”
Don Saylor continued to express concerns about this ordinance in his closing comments–however in the end he voted with the majority to pass the agricultural mitigation and farmland protection ordinance.
However, for those with a strong commitment to preserve viable agricultural and farmland this is an innovative and forward looking initiative that will enable us to preserve our agricultural heritage in the face of growth and urbanization pressures.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting