Like many government agencies, the Amador County Planning Department continues to work from home as they plan the future of county development. I talked with Krista Ruesel, one of the four staffers in the planning department, about the state of planning in the county and asked some questions based on comments in various county-related Facebook groups.

Planning director Chuck Beatty, planners Ruesel and Ruslan Bratan, code enforcement officer Michelle Gallaher, and administrative secretary Mary Ann Manges comprise the planning department. Ruesel said the staff has been working full-time throughout the pandemic. “Project review meetings are still being scheduled as needed,” she said, “but we try to spread them out over time to avoid large numbers of people attending in person.”

Growth Zones

The Amador County 2016 General Plan update has four primary growth areas in the unincorporated areas of the county:

  • Martell
  • Pine Grove
  • Buckhorn
  • River Pines

These areas have been approved for higher-density land uses to encourage developers to bring housing and jobs closer together. Martell, in particular, is designated as a Regional Service Center (RSC) in the 2016 General Plan update. Ruesel said that the designation means that “Martell will become the dominant commercial, industrial, and residential growth area for the unincorporated part of the county.”

One area of interest, the northeast corner of Jackson Gate Road and Highway 49, is currently undeveloped and owned by Ron Regan. In our July 13 feature article about retail and development, Regan discussed his plans and desires for that property.

That article brought Facebook comments about developing more housing on that corner, but Ruesel said that’s not possible. “The portion of the RSC closest to Westover Field, including the Regan site, is within airport safety zones that prohibit multi-family development.” In other areas, Ruesel added, if a developer wants to “push back” against zoning codes that were approved publicly, they can go through the public process to propose amendments or variances.

Housing Plans in Martell

Despite people working from home these days, Ruesel said that once the emergency passes, “working from home is not going to be the driving force in Amador County’s residential growth.” With that said, county planners are still planning for growth, so where will that housing go if not near the airport?

In the mid-2000s, developers submitted a proposal to the county to add several hundred homes in a 200-acre parcel south of Walmart, which is shown in the map below. This proposal also included an extension of  Wicklow Way south to Stony Creek Road. The county denied the project and eventually acquired that site. Plans have been on hold…until now.

Walmart Martell location on Google Maps

Ruesel said that earlier this year, the county secured grant funds to create a Specific Plan for that 200-acre parcel. The plan will include both commercial and residential development and, she said, “the ultimate density and design will be established through a public participation process.”

What’s more, the final plan will help determine if and when a stoplight will be added at the intersection of Highway 88 and Wicklow Way. That decision, Ruesel said, is up to Caltrans.

Staying in Touch

Like many companies, Ruesel said the planning department uses the Zoom videoconferencing service for all its open meetings. Once the public health emergency is over, she expects that videoconferencing will play a key role in county communications. Ruesel noted that people can continue to visit the county website to get upcoming meeting agendas for the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.

She added that one other thing hasn’t changed: “We’re busier than ever.”

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