Salt Creek Heights Gets Commission’s Blessing


The Redding Planning Commission follows the recommendations of city planners the majority of the time, Commissioner Randall Smith acknowledged after a four-hour session on Tuesday.

But in dealing with an issue Smith called one of the most challenging of his 7-year tenure on the panel, the commission departed from the advice of city planners. The commissioners voted 4-2 Tuesday to recommend City Council approval of the entirety of the proposed Salt Creek Heights subdivision.

The subdivision, to be developed by Sierra Pacific Industries, would be one of the largest ever proposed in Redding at 440 lots.

The central area of concern, however, swirls around 11 large custom home lots, several which would sit on the ridge above Salt Creek, a pristine seasonal creek and canyon area that extends from Highway 299 to the Sacramento River in west Redding.

Redding planning manager Douglas DeMallie, speaking on behalf of his staff, said that while the bulk of the subdivision proposal adheres to the city’s general plan and is a "well designed project," six of the custom lots "cannot be supported" because of their intrusion into the greenway of Salt Creek Canyon. The custom lots would impact the Salt Creek area in part because of required fire buffer zone clearing, and the construction of extended driveways to reach the premium lots. The custom lots also faced scrutiny because of the steep grade required for the driveways, and extra pressure placed on fire departments to protect those homes. The entire proposed development area has been identified by the city as a "very high fire hazard severity zone."

Several speakers addressed the Planning Commission with concerns about the custom lots, based on the negative environmental impacts to the Salt Creek area.

Redding’s Melinda Brown said the 11 custom lots would cause much of the subdivision’s environmental degradation to the canyon.

"A minor design change would reduce 50 percent of the environmental impacts on the beautiful and previously hidden Salt Creek Canyon, which hosts an unusually rich and diverse plant community of 237 plant species and is also home to protected steelhead," Brown wrote in a recent opinion column. "The 11 high-dollar showplace lots come at too high a price for the public and for the environment."

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Brown expressed frustration that Sierra Pacific Industries planners refused to alter their proposal in any significant way, even while Redding city planners offered alternatives to six of the 11 lots in question.

"In that way, they’re not being a good neighbor," Brown said. "They know it’s a greenway and they decided to push it anyway, to barrel it on though."

Redding’s David Fritchle said he has been studying the Salt Creek area for 16 years and has identified 237 species of flora in the Salt Creek area that he fears will be negatively impacted by the custom lots.

"This (development) would take away from the lovely beauty of that Salt Creek Canyon," Fritchle said.

Commissioner Michele Goedert, who voted against the recommendation, said there’s much to like about the project, such as its diversity of homes, proposed parks and open spaces, and a trail easement along Salt Creek. But Goedert said she couldn’t reconcile the deep intrusion of the custom lots into the greenway.

"I do believe this is in clear conflict with the greenway policy," Goedert said. "It’s an unprecedented encroachment."

The development proposal would allow for official public easement on the existing Salt Creek Trail, which is a popular route with area mountain bikers and hikers. As a condition of the subdivision agreement, SPI would also contribute $125,000 to trail improvements on the nearby Buenaventura Trail. Commissioner Smith took issue with more money going to the Buenaventura Trail, favoring instead improvements to the existing Salt Creek Trail, which is rocky and has portions of exposed steep cliffs.

The commission’s recommendation included reducing the lengths of the fire buffer zones for the custom lots to reduce the environmental impact on Salt Creek. SPI consultants had disputed the lengths needed for effective fire buffer zones. The developer agreed to take one custom lot out of the plan design which was particularly close to Salt Creek, said Mike Dormer of the planning and engineering firm Sharrah Dunlap Sawyer. Dormer and Land Development Manager Gary Blanc were the lead presenters for SPI.

Following the meeting, Commissioner Chris Young, who voted for the recommendation, said he believes there are misconceptions about the development’s true impacts on the canyon. The proposed custom lots would be well above Salt Creek and probably not even be visible from the trail.

"I’ve gone out and walked every one of these (lot areas) twice," Young said. "I really don’t feel it’s going to grossly intrude into that canyon. When this is all done, I suspect people are going to say, ‘What was all the fuss about?’"

Young acknowledged that Sierra Pacific Industries is a "magnet for attention." The timber industry giant is the largest private land owner in the United States and frequently faces opposition to its projects.

"People have an opinion as to whether SPI is looking out for the environment of not," Young said. "I’m of the opinion that they are a good corporate neighbor."

Salt Creek Heights image from Sharrah Dunlap Sawyer Inc.

jim-dyar-125 Jim Dyar is a news, arts and entertainment journalist for A News Cafe and the former arts and entertainment editor for the Record Searchlight’s D.A.T.E. section. Jim is also a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding. E-mail him at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com .

Jim Dyar

is a journalist who focuses on arts, entertainment, music and the outdoors. He is a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding and can be reached at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com

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