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Guest ranch comes up against zoning laws

The owners of a rustic old-fashioned cattle ranch in Catheys Valley have come up against the reality of trying to make the place an agritourism attraction.

Coyote Springs Ranch, located on about 1,000 acres just off of Highway 140 on Old Highway, is partly owned by Theresa Castaldi. She has co-owned the land for about 11 years, and said that she has raised cattle on the ranch the entire time she has owned it. Castaldi wants to turn the land into a guest ranch, but Mariposa County officials say she is not following proper avenues.

Because of that, the county barricaded the two roads into the ranch last week because Castaldi hadn’t improved those roads as needed by law.

“We can’t get from part of the ranch to the other with the barricades up,” Castaldi said.

The barricades have also caused the American Cowboy Team Roping Association to back out of holding their finals event in September at the ranch. Castaldi said that the event would have brought thousands of dollars into the county.

Kris Schenk, planning director for Mariposa County, said that the barricades were put up by the public works department because of the encroachment laws, which dictate that farm roads coming off of county roads must be paved or concrete has to be put down.

The roads are currently narrow dirt roads that have been there for about 100 years.

“The road has to be wide enough to accommodate vehicular traffic into the ranch, and they haven’t done that,” Schenk said.The zoning on Castaldi’s property is agriculture exclusive, and only a very limited number of uses are allowed on that type of property.

“The primary use of the property has to be ag,” Schenk said. “Agritourism has to be used in conjunction with the primary ag production on the property.”Castaldi said that the work on the road is about 80 percent complete, and she doesn’t understand why the roads have been blocked.“My neighbors said they have encroachments that are five years delinquent, and they aren’t blocked,” Castaldi said.The roads have concrete barriers along with locks on the gates. Anyone who drives in or out of the property has to have the public works department come and unlock the locks, Castaldi said.

“It’s dangerous, I think, especially with the all the fires up here,” she said.

Castaldi has said that she wants to build more than 100 guest cabins on the property, but the county has only given her permission for six cabins.

Schenk said that some buildings that are located on the property have been altered without getting building permits.“The building department went in and red-tagged a building a couple of months ago,” Schenk said.Red-tagging a building means that work must be stopped until the correct permits are obtained, he said. The building still doesn’t have the permits completed.

Castaldi said that the county’s general plan, which was revised in 2006, has a part about agritourism which she said allows her ranch to be used as a guest ranch under the requirements of the plan.

“The county has been trying to shut down this ranch for two years, and I don’t know why,” she said.

Schenk said that the zoning on the ranch is the problem, and if Castaldi and the other owners want to hold big events like ropings, she needs to get a conditional-use permit because those types of events aren’t considered agritourism.

“You are allowed a very limited number of uses in this type of zoning,” he said.Conditional-use permits would show how the owners of the ranch would deal with traffic, sanitation and food service, Schenk said. “We are enforcing productive ag, and that means structures on the property must be related to the ag product being done on the ranch. That means they must be related to raising cattle,” he added.

Schenk said that the ranch is allowed to hold events with less than 250 people, but more than that would also need an assemblance permit. Those permits do not allow the owners to do permanent facilities.

“They have had line dancing and horse events and have put up a museum,” Schenk said. “Those are not related to raising cattle.”Castaldi said that federal agritourism laws state that horseback riding and other activities held on a guest ranch are permitted. But she has another reason to have an agritourism ranch.

“The government says that anything that keeps the land in the family is OK,” she said. “We want to keep the family on the farm and the farm in the family.”

Schenk said that no one is trying to stop Castaldi, the county just wants her to follow the laws.“Some of these improvements should have been done a year ago. They have also been building with no permits,” he said. “As of 24 hours ago, the required permits are not in place.”

Castaldi said that she already has 30 permits on the place, and no one told her that the ranch was going to be barricaded.“This is going to end up in the courts,” she said. “It’s getting nasty.”

[TAIL_FL]Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.

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