Regional committees to be axed?

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat /

A task force organized in the spring to review the county's myriad planning commissions and committees released recommendations on Tuesday that include eliminating all of the county's design review/planning advisory committees and dissolving three of the four planning commissions.

The Board of Supervisors - the county's highest governing body - is scheduled to consider the recommendations at its meeting Feb. 5.

The board in May set up the task force to review all of the committees and commissions that handle planning issues in the county to see if any can be changed or eliminated to save costs and simplify the development process.

According to the county Community Resources Agency, months of review and deliberation led to the following recommendations:

• Disband the Phoenix Lake, Muller subdivision, Twain Harte and Tuolumne City design review/planning advisory committees. Those committees comment on "design review" permits in their designated areas, which have additional zoning rules for properties. The proposal callsfor eliminating those rules for the two subdivisions altogether and shrinking the design review areas in Twain Harte and Tuolumne City to the downtown cores.

• Eliminate the Columbia Area, Jamestown Area and Southern Tuolumne County planning commissions. Those commissions make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on proposed amendments to the county General Plan and on zoning issues, as well as on land use and development issues in their areas. They also can issue permits on conditional use, design review, site review and development, though those decisions can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. Under that recommendation, the work handled by the dissolved commissions would fall under the Tuolumne County Planning Commission.

Should the Board of Supervisors want to keep the three planning commissions, the task force suggests making them all five-person bodies.

The task force also suggested reducing the size of the county's Board of Supervisors Planning Committee and Historic Preservation Review Commission.

The task force was spearheaded by Board of Supervisors' member Evan Royce, who represents the communities of Tuolumne and Twain Harte and is a general contractor. One of the goals was removing bureaucratic steps for builders and property owners looking to complete some construction projects and cutting the hundreds of hours spent by county staffers at meetings, Royce said. The report estimates that costs the county more than $100,000 a year.

"We spent a lot of time on this. We really tried to go through the nuts and bolts of all the committees," Royce said Tuesday.

The recommendations could see some push back. When the board first considered this process, members of the public boards stressed that the entities give an informed local voice to the development process. Even the recommendation, which was compiled by the CRA, states that the planning commissions have a number of positive aspects that include increased access and participation for the public.

"It was very contentious. But we felt like we came up with some really good recommendations that I think will get support ... and be able to save the county some money and make it easier to get things done," he said.

The Union Democrat
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