KNIGHTS FERRY — Stanislaus County planners this week will consider a 5-acre minimum on residential lots on the outskirts of Knights Ferry, a move designed to preserve the towns historic character.
Community residents have told the county that proposals to subdivide parcels for housing just outside of town have threatened the character of the mining settlement dating to 1849. Known for its covered bridge and rich history, Knights Ferry is protected by a historic zoning district that restricts what owners can do with their property.
The county Planning Commission could approve the ordinance change Thursday. It would prohibit rural parcels from being broken into residential lots at the east and west gateways to the unincorporated town. It would have no immediate effect on the much-disputed Knights Ferry Overlook subdivision, just west of town, which was opposed by residents but received county approval in May 2012 after an appeals court decision sided with the developer.
The county cant stop developer Nick Honchariw of Tiburon from creating four 1-acre lots on Cemetery Road, unless he misses deadlines for moving forward, said Angela Freitas, the countys director of planning and community development. During hearings in 2009 and last year, critics said the land is too steep for homes and that problems with wells and septic systems would result.
The subdivisions southern portion would consist of 5-acre parcels on a bluff overlooking the Stanislaus River, plus 12 acres to remain in a natural state. That portion is outside the historic zoning district.
Honchariw opposed the ordinance amendment in an Oct. 10 letter, charging that the proposed zoning was punitive and arbitrary. As you may recall, the initial disapproval of our subdivision in 2009 was unanimously held by a California Court of Appeal to be unlawful after extensive litigation, he wrote. If adopted, the ordinance amendment will invite further land use litigation and the prospect of paying damages.
County officials continued an Oct. 17 Planning Commission hearing to seek legal advice on Honchariws claims of discriminatory zoning. County staff concluded that several other property owners would be affected by the zoning; therefore, it is not slanted against the developer.
A county report says the 5-acre minimum would legally uphold the purpose of the historic district to preserve areas of local, regional, state or national historical significance.
In 2009, the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors sided with townsfolk in turning down the Knights Ferry Overlook subdivision. After the developer filed suit, one court upheld the county decisions but the 5th District Court of Appeal ruled there was no legal cause for denying the project.
When the project was submitted again last year, county supervisors reluctantly approved it.
On the east side of town, the proposed zoning would include the 19-acre Knights Ferry Recreation Area, owned and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as properties north of Sonora Road to the district boundary.
Other regulations hold properties in the central part of Knights Ferry to 20,000 square feet or less.
The Planning Commission will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday in the basement chambers of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2321.