The Press Democrat

The Press Democrat

Debate over Cloverdale growth

Clark Mason


Critics worry of future sprawl as council readies new general plan

As Cloverdale tinkers with its blueprint for growth, there is an ongoing debate over whether the city is setting itself up to stretch too far south and encourage sprawl.

Environmentalists who have been pushing Cloverdale to adopt a voter-approved urban growth boundary say the city is poised to develop all the way to Asti, about 2 miles south of current city limits.

The city’s redrafted general plan, the document that will guide growth until 2025, anticipates annexing Asti, site of the historic Italian Swiss Colony winery, but leaving out some of the vineyards and agricultural lands in between.

“Whenever a city includes rural lands into its sphere of influence and extends services, it creates development pressures,” said Daisy Pistey-Lyhne, a representative of Greenbelt Alliance. “Cloverdale may have good intentions, but it will lead to development of farmlands.”

But Jerry Moore, a resident of Cloverdale for more than 50 years, said he finds the talk of sprawl “comical.”

“I don’t have this fear some evil Council and Planning Commission is going to come here at some point and just blow this place up and bring developers in here,” he said.

The discussion is heating up as the city prepares to finalize its new general plan, which foresees Cloverdale’s population of 8,600 growing to 12,000 by 2025.

The plan, which has been more than five years in the making, is designed to provide sufficient commercial and industrial growth areas in the mostly bedroom community, which once relied heavily on the lumber industry for jobs.

Some critics say stretching too far south will hurt the struggling downtown, which was made pedestrian-friendly after the highway was relocated to the east.

“If you extend services to Asti, It will extend development to Asti. It’s not in the best economic interests of Cloverdale,” resident Melanie Bagby told the Planning Commission last week. “We want walkable communities. That’s what we need to be concentrating on.”

The commission, which took public comments on the topic, scheduled another meeting for March 4 before it will forward its recommendations to the City Council.

Also last week, a group of property owners just outside the city limits said they want more flexibility to develop their lands beyond the current general industrial designation.

The Southwest Gateway Property Owners Group, which owns a half-dozen properties west of Dutcher Creek Road and south of Sandholm Road, wants the potential to develop mixed-use, including commercial, residential and recreation commercial. One possible use, the organization said, would be a new site for a relocated Citrus Fair.

Cloverdale is the only city in Sonoma County without a voter-approved urban growth boundary. Such boundaries are seen as a way for voters to control development on city fringes. They are intended to limit sprawl, promote in-fill development and preserve agriculture and community separators.

Advocates for a growth boundary say it should be locked into the general plan, similar to what the other eight cities in the county have done.

But city staff members aren’t convinced the general plan needs to include the language of the voter initiative.

The City Council plans to place a growth boundary measure on the November 2010 ballot.

The City Council last year approved the outlines for a growth boundary that would annex Asti.

It limits the city’s expansion to the south, allowing for two “exception areas,” including Asti, where city services such as sewer could be extended.

Development would be limited in Asti to winery/destination commercial and hotel uses.

Currently, Fosters Wine Estates, the Napa-based wine division of the Australian beverage giant, produces Cellar 8 and Chateau Souverain brands in Asti.

There also would be an “industrial exception area” for a swath of land near Redwood Empire Lumber.

City Council members said they want to allow those exceptions in order to generate jobs.

“One of our goals is to keep and maintain jobs in the community,” said Mayor Joe Palla. “The intent is not to expand and develop between the current city limits and Asti.”

In the past, city officials acknowledged that stretching south also was desirable because of a car dealership outside the city’s southern border that produced lucrative sales taxes. That business closed last year.

“The car dealership may be empty, but it won’t sit empty. There will be some activity soon,” said Bruce Reuser, who owns industrial buildings and a landscape materials company.

But Pistey-Lyhne of the Greenbelt Alliance said the new general plan allows for more than twice the amount of commercial and industrial development needed for Cloverdale to achieve its desired 1-to-1 jobs-to-housing ratio.

“This will lead to sprawl, exacerbate the population and economic leakage from downtown, and negatively impact (Cloverdale’s) already-fragile economy,” she said.


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