A barely muted battle between most county supervisors and the Pacific Lumber Co. played out Tuesday, with dozens of timberland owners begging not to be caught in the middle by a temporary ordinance restricting building.
After hours of testimony, supervisors modified the 45-day ordinance to leave out landowners who already have building applications submitted. But in a 4-1 vote, they approved the ordinance for timber production zone, or TPZ, lands.
All but 2nd District Supervisor Roger Rodoni voted to approve the interim ordinance that was brought by supervisors Jill Geist and Bonnie Neely over concerns about a 22,000-acre development Palco has pitched as part of its bankruptcy restructuring plan. Most landowners said they weren't opposed to the county taking a stand against the company, but not at the risk of their property values or ability to develop their land.
The full effects of the interim ordinance -- which will allow hardship exemptions -- are unclear, and supervisors supporting the measure said they need time to pour over existing statutes. A hearing on whether to continue the ordinance is expected to be held in the next four weeks.
Forest land owners nervous over ordinance
A temporary building moratorium for timberland parcels being considered by county supervisors today has some landowners sweating over possible damage to the value of their property and their ability to sell it.
Humboldt County supervisors will weigh the adoption of an interim ordinance that would be in place for 45 days with extensions possible out to 22 months, 15 days. It's aimed at a proposal by the Pacific Lumber Co., which has pitched an exclusive development of more than 130, 160-acre “kingdoms” linked together with amenities like a golf course and a club house.
The change from timber production to ultra high-end residential development on 22,000 acres may not be compatible with policies being considered as part of the general plan in progress, according to a county staff report.
But owners of far smaller parcels of timber production zone -- TPZ -- lands are afraid of being caught up in the ordinance.
Lee Ulansey bought 100 acres of timberland on Greenwood Heights Road about six years ago with the intention of building a home. He said the county assured him that would be possible. Now he's worried that won't be possible, and that any temporary ordinance might be strung out longer than two years -- and seriously affect the value of his property. "I'm guessing there's thousands of people with TPZ parcels in similar situations,” Ulansey said.
The upscale development being proposed by Palco is part of its reorganization plan submitted in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Corpus Christi, Texas. Palco believes it can raise $700 million by selling the parcels in the so-called Redwood Ranch Development for $5.6 million each.
Eureka forester and real estate appraiser Frank Mileham said even a temporary ordinance on all TPZ land could put a cloud over the properties. While the ordinance may be aimed at large timberland owners, he said, it's inherently going to include owners of smaller properties.
”It could have a huge impact on value,” Mileham said.
People interested in investing in land may shy away from the uncertainty, he said.
The county staff report says the ordinance is necessary to the “health, safety and welfare” of the community, and adds that if Palco's development were allowed to go forward under existing codes, it could prompt other large timberland owners to convert lands to residential development. Some alternatives being considered in the general plan could significantly limit residential development on timber land.
Barnum Timber Co. owns about 36,000 acres in Humboldt County. While it currently has no land for sale, said Barnum forester Steve Horner, it has always expected that some of its land could be developed.
If the company has to sell land again, as it has in recent years to weather market and regulatory conditions, it would have to sell more acreage than it would if developable parcels were available for sale, Horner said.
”That's literally our only liquid asset,” Horner said. He added, “They've just wiped away that value.”
The measure requires a 4/5ths vote to pass. Any extension of the ordinance would have to go through a public hearing before the first 45-day period expires.
The meeting starts at 9 a.m. at the Humboldt County Courthouse.