Upper Bear River canyon looking toward Mokelumne Peak
As we reported in the Winter 2018 e-Focus
, Amador County’s board of supervisors voted last May to allow the continued operation of a resort facility near Upper Bear River Reservoir, known as The Hideout,
despite it not being a legal use under the county zoning code. At the time, the board directed county staff to develop a solution that would allow The Hideout to apply for a conditional use permit.
In early March, the county planning staff released a proposed change to the county zoning ordinance that would have allowed landowners to apply for conditional use permits to operate “event facilities” on properties 10 acres or larger with an Open-Recreation general plan designation and R1A zoning. The change would have applied to more than 4,000 acres of land, much of it in the higher-elevation eastern parts of the county where fire danger is high, infrastructure is not well developed, few services are available, and emergency response times are relatively long. The county proposed to adopt the zoning change without California Environmental Quality Act review, which in our opinion, would have been a violation of state law.
The county general plan describes the OR designation as applying to: “Public recreation lands, including national, state, and local parks and recreation areas, game and wildlife refuges, and recreation and resort developments. Permitted uses include:
- Public, quasi-public, and private recreation uses, either exclusively or in combination with compatible uses
- Resource uses such as managed forestry, mining, and grazing; and
- Residential, resort, and commercial recreation uses under appropriate controls and zoning.”
It further states that “Amador County’s policy in Open-Recreation areas is to fully maintain and encourage the open and recreational character and natural environmental values of the land.”
Foothill Conservancy had serious concerns about the draft ordinance. In a letter to the Amador County Planning Commission, we urged the county to give the matter more consideration before moving forward.
We pointed out that allowing commercial event facilities in the OR designation conflicted with the general plan, could put people and forests at increased risk from fire, could disturb adjoining landowners, and could potentially harm national forest lands. We also detailed what we thought were some good elements in the ordinance. In addition, we expressed our concern that if these facilities were allowed on OR/R1A properties, owners of R1A properties in the Agricultural General (AG) general plan designation would soon request expansion of the new provision to their land. As we’ve discussed in this newsletter in the past, the proliferation of winery-related events in rural parts of the county is already causing conflicts in what were once quiet, rural agricultural areas.
Before the March 12 Planning Commission meeting, we submitted a letter to the Amador County Planning Commission regarding our concerns. The Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California and the Hung-A-Lel-Ti Woodfords Washoe Community Council also submitted letters to the county expressing concerns related to cultural resources, natural resources, and fire.
At the meeting, not one member of the public or planning commission supported the ordinance as proposed. The Hideout's owner, Tom Hoover, stated that he believed that 10 acres was too small for event centers, but also complained that the ordinance, if adopted, would unduly burden his operations. His consulting planner, Bruce Baracco of Sutter Creek, suggested that perhaps a change to PD (planned development) zoning for the Hoover property alone could be a path to resolution. County Counsel Greg Gillott agreed that it might, while stating that it would be up to Hoover to apply for such a change.
On a 5-0 vote, the commission sent the ordinance back to staff and asked them to discuss the matter further with Hoover. The commissioners also suggested that if Hoover doesn’t apply for a rezone, the staff should fully consult with all interested parties, notify all affected landowners (which was not done before the public hearing), and seek solutions for the issues raised at the meeting before returning with a revised ordinance.
When the county initiates a zoning change or general plan amendment, local tax dollars fund the cost of the CEQA analysis. But if The Hideout’s owners request that their parcel be rezoned to PD, Hoover Enterprises would be required to cover the cost of the analysis. In either case, the county would be obligated to impose mitigations for any identified potentially significant environmental impacts.
Meanwhile, as The Hideout continues to operate in conflict with the county zoning code, it’s also apparently failing to comply with federal regulations. “The Hideout Lodge” winter recreation packages have been advertised on the Internet at $1,800 to $2,400 per person for a four-day, three-night stay. They include all-day, guided outings into the “backcountry,” but The Hideout is on a 38-acre parcel surrounded largely by Eldorado National Forest lands. According to Amador Ranger District staff, The Hideout has no permit for commercial operations on the national forest.