City officials and members of public clash over development at land use workshop

The planning workshop had standing-room-only as city official and members of the public discussed the topic of future development.

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The Winters City Council provided direction on how the city should handle development moving forward, at the three-hour Joint Land Use and Planning Workshop hosted in conjunction with the Planning Commission at the Public Safety Center on Wednesday, Aug. 21.

Members of the community unable to find seats lined the walls of the Emergency Operations Center to hear a staff presentation on the planning process. City Contract Planner Heidi Tschudin provided a 25-point overview of the planning process, defending the General Plan and explaining that provisions for future growth were determined by factors like state housing requirements and land use regulations.

The North Area annexation controversy was central to the conversation. Tschudin’s presentation confirmed potential development of North Winters property owned by real estate developer Bellvue North was still a possibility, despite public opposition after the Winters Express published emails between City Manager John Donlevy and a representative of the firm earlier this year.

Donlevy, who largely refrained from comment during the meeting, told the Express “it won’t be business as usual,” moving forward. He said city staff believe they can bridge the gap between city development goals and public sentiment through education.

Though an official proposal has thus far not been submitted, the emails revealed the developer had intended to submit an application with the city to develop a specific plan for residential development of the North Area of the Winters General Plan, as well as land outside city limits.

Tschudin highlighted a resolution passed by the City Council Aug. 20 that clarified a previous resolution so that any future proposals to incorporate land outside of city limits must go before the city council for approval before staff take action.

Council directions call for an adequacy review of the General Plan, which came under fire from members of the public who took to the podium to voice their opposition to growth. The current General Plan, adopted in 1992, planned for a population of over 12,000 in Winters, nearly twice the present population.

Community members said the General Plan was not in line with the interests of Winters residents, 18 of whom took to the podium during public comments. While some comments were more moderate than others about the potentiality of future growth, public sentiment was overwhelmingly against development.

Staff responded to calls for a new General Plan, arguing that the city still owes $370,000 to pay off the 1992 drafting process. They also made the case the state policy directives restricted the ability of municipalities like Winters to limit development aspirations of private property owners.

The council’s directions also  included developing a plan to pay off the current General Plan once and for all, as well as more council involvement in land development applications. An update on the plan’s Housing Element and the inclusion of a Climate Action and Sustainability section per California state law will be required by 2021.

Members of the public thanked city officials for holding the workshop, but were critical of claims made by Tschudin that supported continuing the status quo. The workshop was identified as a major step in recent attempts by the city to address negative public sentiment towards the planning and land development processes, improve transparency and increase public engagement.

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