Santa Clara County supervisors relax rebuilding rules for Croy Fire victims

Uvas Canyon residents affected by September’s 3,000-plus-acre
Croy Fire won’t be penalized if they approach the county to rebuild
or legalize their homes.
GILROY – Uvas Canyon residents affected by September’s 3,000-plus-acre Croy Fire won’t be penalized if they approach the county to rebuild or legalize their homes, but will still be subject to regular planning and building regulations and fees, Santa Clara County supervisors have decided.

Supervisors decided to clarify the details of the county’s amnesty policy for Uvas Canyon residents and victims of the Croy Fire after reviewing staff reports and analysis of the permitting situation in the heavily wooded hills west of Morgan Hill.

“What we want to do is get people into compliance,” District 1 Supervisor Don Gage said after the vote. “If they’re out of compliance and we double their fees to rebuild, they’re not going to do it legally.

“What we want is compliance, to build structures that meet the requirements of the law and are inspected to make sure the chances of them having a problem are reduced significantly.”

According to a damage report by the county and California Department of Forestry, there were 99 residential structures on 60 parcels directly exposed to the fire. Thirty-four were destroyed, including 13 houses, 15 trailers and six mobile homes.

Four more residences were damaged and 61 other residential structures were not affected by the flames. Thirty-two nonresidential buildings were also destroyed.

Under the policy approved by a supervisors’ straw vote, fire victims whose homes or structures were built illegally or without proper permits will not be subjected to monetary penalties – such as doubled building fees – when they apply to rebuild. They will also be offered extended time – up to two years – to refile the necessary permits and documents to rebuild in compliance with current codes.

However, those residents will still have to pay standard building and permitting fees and meet all regularly applicable county codes and conditions if they choose to rebuild. For example, a building site approval fee can run roughly $4,600 per parcel.

A similar policy will apply to Uvas-area residents whose structures were not burned or damaged by the fire, but who voluntarily approach the county to secure the legally required approvals for their buildings, officials said.

So far, it appears the majority of residents and property owners affected by the fire could be in a position to take advantage of the amnesty offer.

According to a preliminary county staff analysis delivered to supervisors Tuesday, 83 of the 99 residential structures directly exposed to the fire are either unpermitted or are “legally nonconforming” uses that are essentially old enough to fall under different rules or standards.

There is no solid research yet to establish how many homes may actually fall in the latter category, officials said.

Officials acknowledged that some residents may not be able to legally rebuild the structures they lost. Slopes may be too steep, or soil types may not properly accommodate septic systems, for example. But building codes and planning rules exist for a reason, they say.

“We do it for a reason: for public safety, the environment, a lot of different things,” Gage said.

Meanwhile, many of the illegal structures aren’t likely to be rebuilt anyway, he said.

“The reality is most of those folks have just left,” Gage said. “If they had a trailer up there, and it was illegal, we won’t see them again. They can’t get the power or water (services) there … and don’t have the dollars to do what they needed to do.”

Supervisors also agreed Tuesday to waive regular building fees for fire victims whose legally-built homes or structures were destroyed by the blaze, as long as they plan to rebuild a similar home or structure on the original footprint.

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