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Annexation report sets stage for decision on quarry

 

Last updated 2/28/2008 at Noon



Temecula’s blueprint for annexing a 5,000-acre swath at its southern edge includes zoning measures that would slow or halt development of a granite mine planned in the area, city environmental documents state.

The shift in zoning designations that is detailed in the city’s annexation-related documents did not catch mine proponents off guard.

“We knew that they were going to put the zone change in [the report],” said Karie Reuther, community relations director for Granite Construction Co., which hopes to develop the 311-acre mine west of Interstate 15 near Rainbow.

The inclusion of the zoning change – which would set aside a state mining certification obtained by Granite last year – will sharpen debate over whether the city or Riverside County should have jurisdiction over the mine site and the rugged seven-square-mile area that surrounds it.

The proposed zoning change will also give credence to Granite’s criticism that the city views annexation as a way to stop the mine plan from being reviewed by county land use authorities.

The company will state that perspective when it responds soon to the thick environmental report that the city prepared on behalf of its annexation plan.

“It will be pointed out,” Reuther said.

She said the city has “questionable motives” in seeking to annex the mountainous tract that is largely made up of the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve.

The report says the city wants to protect the reserve’s research value “by prohibiting incompatible land uses within adjacent properties.” It notes that approval of the annexation “will result in zoning and land use designations that do not allow mining operations.”

Temecula can enact specific zoning designations for that area in its annexation plan, said George J. Spiliotis, executive officer of a Riverside County boundary-setting agency. Any zoning changes adopted during an annexation of the area would need to remain in place for at least two years, he said.

The city’s report would be presented to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), which would eventually rule on the annexation proposal.

The report or related materials will likely need to state the revenue losses that the county would incur if the mine is annexed by the city, Spiliotis said in a telephone interview.

The report has been awaited as a key juncture in the mine controversy, which has pitted Granite against the city and several local community groups. The Temecula City Council more than a year ago set aside $500,000 to fight the mine plan in court if needed.

In January 2007, council members voted to examine the possible annexation of the 4,997-acre tract south of the city and west of I-15. At the time, Granite officials complained that such an annexation would circumvent its right to present its mine proposal to county planners.

If approved, the Santa Margarita annexation would more than triple all the incorporated land that Temecula has added since it became a city in December 1989.

Three previously approved annexations took in Redhawk, Vail Ranch and other residential areas by adding two square miles to Temecula’s original 26-square-mile boundary.

About 55 people, most of them members of an anti-quarry group, gathered in a community room last week to discuss potential responses to the city document that would be released the following day.

A 45-day period to provide written comments follows the release of the document.

Ray Johnson, a De Luz attorney who is active with the Save Our Southwest Hills (SOS-Hills) watchdog group, repeatedly advised audience members against mentioning the mine in any written comments they might submit to the city.

To do so, he said, could fuel Granite’s arguments that the annexation is a means to derail the Liberty Quarry project.

“You don’t want to give anybody any ammunition if you don’t have to,” he told audience members.

Johnson urged SOS-Hills members to focus their comments on the importance of protecting the wildlife corridors and scenic beauty of Temecula’s southern gateway.

Mine foes have also cited increased noise, dust, traffic and other potential impacts as reasons to oppose the mine plan.

Reuther, who attended the SOS-Hills meeting, counters that studies done in recent months by Granite’s consultants show that the mine would pose scant environmental risks to the area.

Granite is preparing its own environmental report that would be reviewed by county planners along with the mine development plan.

Once the public comment period ends on Temecula’s annexation analysis, city staff will respond in writing to the points made by public agencies, area residents or Granite officials. Next, a public hearing would be scheduled for council review of the annexation plan.

If the annexation is endorsed by the council, a formal application would then be made to LAFCO for review. It would likely take about four months to schedule one or more public hearings by LAFCO’s seven-member board, Spiliotis said.

LAFCO could approve or deny the annexation following its review.

 

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