Kennedy Meadows Development Gets Zoning Change to Build Homes

Where else could you drive for three-and-a-half hours and still be in Tulare County? That would be Kennedy Meadows, located at about 6,200 feet in the southern Sierra Nevada. Recently made famous in Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Kennedy Meadows is equipped with several campgrounds, rustic cabins and a lodge with a grocery store and a restaurant, but precious little else–and some people want it to stay that way.

The Tulare County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on August 25 about a zone change that might lead to a housing development in Kennedy Meadows. Plans for the new development have been in the pipeline since 2007. The Tulare County Planning Commission rejected a plan that included 64 lots with a commercial development. That plan was modified to 12 lots composed of 8 lots of 20 acres each, and four lots of 10 acres each, with no commercial development. Fighting over a development of 12 homes may seem almost silly to an urban dweller, but to those who families homesteaded Kennedy Meadows in the 1800’s, it means changing their way of life.

Not all of the old-timers and fulltime residents are against the development. Some say welcome a little change and commercial development as a possibility of more things to do, and a few more people to do them with. But without the basic services of electricity, sewer or the ability to log onto Facebook, it seems hard to imagine Kennedy Meadows will ever change. With this in mind the Resource Management Agency (RMA) recommended that the Tulare County Board of Supervisors (TCBOS) approve the zone change.

After the RMA’s presentation 16 people participated in the public hearing, 12 were for the rezoning while four were against. Mike Washam, assistant director of RMA, said that from the letters he received there were a few more against the zone change than in favor.

Of the four who attended the meeting, who are against approving the new zoning, only one was a fulltime resident. The main opposition was that attracting people to 10 and 20-acre lots, versus the current minimum of 40 acres, will change their way of life. The people who live and vacation in Kennedy Meadows say they are concerned about light and noise pollution from all the generators, and the trampling of pristine lands. They are also concerned with a new housing development’s disrupting the experience of those hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

One land owner said the situation is already out of control with people building whatever they want and running their generators and lights all night. Because of the lack of services, seasonal visitors bring their own gasoline, food, building materials and generators. These part-timers don’t support the local economy and break-ins have become more common. The current codes are already not enforced because there is no one to police them. Add more residents and the situation could get worse, they say.

The one resident who came to testify explained that when you keep lots at 40 acres or more you attract a rural type of person. The fulltime resident said she has 160 acres where she has a one-room cabin and a trailer. She said that Kennedy Meadows is a gift and that she wants to keep it that way. Another speaker against the zone change said that the issue about the Indian artifacts has not been addressed. The property that is proposed to be developed sits right up against a piece of land that has never been touched and still contains artifacts. She also wanted to know how the RMA plans on protecting the Indian bedrock mortars next to the possible development.

Those in favor of the zone change said that there are just a handful of people who want to keep everyone out. The speakers all agreed that anyone who moves or vacations on a 10-acre plot in an area with no services, in the middle of the wilderness, is going to be just as conscientious as someone who owns a 40-acre plot. They say that Kennedy Meadows will never be crowded and it would even be a stretch to say it might reach 300 people in the next few decades. The additional development might also be good for Kennedy Meadows and add more control over the unruly and remote area.

Mark Forrest, from Southern California, said he takes his family camping in Kennedy Meadows and eats at Grumpy Bear, the only restaurant. He has made a lot of family memories up there and would like to buy a 10-acre lot. He said they enjoy the dark night skies and stargazing.

“That’s why we like it and we want to preserve it,” he said.

Forrest pointed out that anyone who is the type of person to buy up there is going to want to deep Kennedy Meadows the way it is.

Carol Jacobs, another resident, said that those who live there would like a few more services and the new development might bring some. She said the one resident’s property, who is against the zone change, looks right down on the proposed new development. Jacobs said that Kennedy Meadows is a place where middle income families can buy a vacation home and get the opportunity to own a little piece of heaven.

While there are about 70 fulltime residents in the summer, according to the 2010 census, there were only 28 permanent residents in Kennedy Meadows. The census is traditionally done in February, so that might account for the low number. The PCT is located two miles from the new development and a mile from the Kennedy Meadows Lodge. It has become a popular restocking point for northbound hikers. Kennedy Meadows was featured in the movie Wild, based on the bestselling book, about Strayed’s three-month solo journey from Mexico to Canada along the PCT.

The Tulare County Board of Supervisors decided to accept RMA’s recommendation and voted 5-0 for the zoning change.

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