By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Drafting a general plan to guide Del Norte Countys growth over the next 20 years has taken more than five years, and its not nearly over yet.

Despite that, a small group of citizens complained Tuesday night they need more time to review the plan and demanded the county Planning Commission give them another 60-to-120 days.

The commission extended its public hearing on the plan until Jan. 24, but Chairman Sparky Countess said no more public comments will be accepted.

Youre denying us, as citizens, our due process which is a civil rights violation, said Richard McNamara.

The 20-year general plan is required by all counties and cities in the state. Its goal is to project population growth, development and the necessary zoning and environmental planning needed for those projections.

The schedule to finish Del Nortes plan is already one year behind and still needs to be approved by the California Coastal Commission.

McNamara and his group of private-property-rights advocates said theyve hired a law firm to look over the draft plan.

At another public hearing on the draft plan last year, McNamara described it as unconstitutional, biased, inconsistent, incomplete, unfair and corrupt, based on its lack of economic analysis and infringement on private-property-owner rights.

Tuesday, he said the materials in the plan are confusing and unorganized.

And its unfair to ask the public to get through all the materials youve presented and the law firm hasnt had time to look at our research so we want a time extension, McNamara said.

Ultimately, the commission did extend the public hearing but only to allow county staff to respond to the comments made Tuesday on the draft plan.

A volume of comments nearly four-inches thick have already been received in reference to an environmental impact report analyzing the plans proposed policies.

A majority of the comments focused on land use around Lake Earl and Point St. George.

The environmental group, Friends of Del Norte, says the suggested policy of a 100-foot buffer between the wetlands and new development is not enough.

A 100-foot buffer doesnt cut it, said Eileen Cooper of Friends of Del Norte, referring to the need for adequate space between development and the birds and vegetation of the lake.

But property owners near the lake said they are tired of buffers and government interference.

Twenty-or-so property owners I represent agree we dont want more buffer zone or more government interference on our land. We need more smaller-parcel development to accommodate the doubling of growth. If the plan is adopted as is, it will strangulate tax revenues for Del Norte County, said Ron Plechaty.

The general plan does project the population of the county will double, within 20 years, but predicts most newcomers will settle in the area around Crescent City, not in outlying areas like Lake Earl.

Presently, the population of the county is 23,460 including 3,553 inmates in Pelican Bay State Prison.

The population is expected to reach 42,042 by 2020.

To accommodate the numbers, the plan changes some zoning designations throughout Gasquet, Hiouchi, Big Flat and the unincorporated area of Crescent City to allow for more housing.

Point St. George has been designated for a clustering of density. It is currently used primarily for agricultural and cattle grazing as well as recreation, but has always been zoned for development, according to the plan.

Members of the Friends of Del Norte are vehemently opposed to any development there.

To develop Point St. George is in contrast to what surrounds it, Cooper said.

The policy in the new draft plan does not change for that area. The previous general plan was adopted in 1976.

Though the public comment period on the new draft plan is closing this January, Community Development Director Ernie Perry said the plan will always be changeable.

Its a living document and always has to comply with state and federal standards as they change, Perry said.

For example, the Lake Earl Management Plan being developed now by Fish and Game will dictate the countys policies and procedures regarding the lake and land surrounding it.

In addition, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors is allowed to change the plan at least three times and can make multiple changes at once.

Planning Commission Chairman Countess said he expects the present draft plan will be recommended to the Board of Supervisors for acceptance on Jan. 24.

If the board accepts the plan, it will be forwarded to the California Coastal Commission for its review and approval.