Home on the Range

Amid housing boom, Placer County eyes a plan to preserve farmland

Back Web Only Feb 6, 2015 By Morris Newman

It’s the land of Ah: Placer County is home to picture-perfect suburbs where new housing developments spring up like dandelions amid a wealth of green countryside. Much of the appeal of cities like Auburn, Rocklin and Roseville  can be found in the views of open spaces and rolling topography in these communities. People buy move-up houses here not only for highly rated school districts, but also for the spacious feeling of the farmland, the foothills dotted with oaks and the majestic pine and fir forests leading to the western edge of Lake Tahoe.  

Now, county officials appear close to approving a sweeping plan to preserve Placer’s agricultural character. If approved by the Board of Supervisors, a conservation plan would protect a large area of farms and open space in the western portion of Placer County, and keep them free of development for at least 50 years —possibly longer.  According to the plan, existing urban areas would continue to develop and grow in density, while existing farmland and fields in designated areas would remain off limits to developers.

With approvals in place for an expected 20,000 homes to be built in the next 20-30 years, “there’s a concern that urban areas will just continue to grow unchecked,” says Michael Johnson, Placer County planning director. “County leadership want to define an edge around urban areas where permanent [open] spaces would be located”  The conservation plan is the vehicle to achieve that goal, Johnson says.

Many California cities and several counties have adopted growth limits or are currently studying them. Keeping down the costs of infrastructure is another potential advantage of conservation plans, according to Johnson. What city planners call “compact development,” keeps homes and employment centers within a close distance of each other, encouraging people to walk, use bicycles and take public transportation..  

The proposed conservation plan attempts to learn from the mistakes of earlier open space efforts, according to Johnson. Instead of conservation areas interspersed by developments, he says, the Placer County plan provides continuous routes for animals that need widespread habitat.  For some types of wildlife, “connectivity is critical to the survival of the species,” he says. Just as green space may be critical to the ongoing vitality of the Placer housing industry.

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