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Planning Commission approves Fallbrook Ranch map

The San Diego County Planning Commission voted 7-0 March 12 to approve a tentative parcel map and site plan for the proposed Fallbrook Ranch subdivision, which will create 11 single-family lots on what is currently a 41-acre parcel.

Although Commissioner Michael Beck pulled the item from consent approval at the planning Commission’s March 5 hearing, his concerns about the project were resolved the following week.

No members of the public spoke in opposition to the project at either Planning Commission hearing, in April 2007 the Fallbrook Community Planning Group voted 14-0 to recommend approval of the site plan and tentative map, and in May 2007 the I-15 Corridor Design Review Board voted 6-0 to recommend approval of the site plan.

“There was no opposition ever,” said Roberto Frulla, who owns the land on the east side of Old Highway 395 east of Interstate 15, which includes areas both north and south of where Mission Road intersects with Old Highway 395. “Everything they asked for in terms of mitigation, I agreed to.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the Endangered Habitats League identified concerns during the circulation of the draft environmental Mitigated Negative Declaration, although a December 2009 meeting with the wildlife agencies led to their concurrence that the project had addressed significant issues.

The 11 residential lots range from two to four acres. Approximately four acres will be preserved within permanent biological open space and another four acres will be preserved within steep slope open space easements. The parcel has A70 (Limited Agriculture) zoning, and agricultural operations have taken place on the property. Less than half of the land is still in native habitat, although the open space easements will provide a habitat corridor for California gnatcatchers (birds) and will also preserve a drainage that runs along the northwest corner of the site. Approximately 63 percent of the undisturbed lands will be impacted by the development, and the Red Mountain Mitigation Bank will be used to mitigate those impacts.

The value of the habitat was an issue with Beck, as the property is within a pre-approved mitigation area of the proposed North County Multiple Species Conservation Program. “You actually have to make sure that these areas are connected,” he said. “It has huge regional significance.”

The connectivity refers to gnatcatcher travel between San Diego County and Riverside County. “The habitat has a low value because it is isolated,” said Department of Planning and Land Use Planning Manager Richard Grunow.

The existing single-family residence and a farm employee housing trailer will remain on the site. The existing private driveway, known as Topa Topa Place, will be improved from Sterling View Drive to meet current private road standards. Topa Topa Place will provide access to nine of the lots and will terminate in a cul-de-sac, and the remaining two lots will be accessed from the existing private road Fallbrook Hacienda Lane, which connects to Mission Road.

The project will also connect Fallbrook Hacienda Lane with Topa Topa Place just prior to the Topa Topa Place cul-de-sac, which will provide for secondary access in the event of an emergency but which also drew questions from the Planning Commission due to the fact that the intersection will not be at 90 degree angles.

The project’s proximity to Interstate 15 will require mitigation to reduce noise levels on five of the lots, and each of those lots will have a specialized building layout to reduce exterior noise levels. The I-15 corridor design guidelines will prohibit two-story structures on two of the lots while limiting four other lots to a single story unless a finding can be made that a two-story home would maintain a low-profile appearance and would substantially maintain the natural physical character of the ridgeline. Each residence will have a wing-wall design if sound barriers are necessary, and the site plans for each residence will be reviewed by both county staff and the I-15 Corridor Design Review Board.

The I-15 design review guidelines were written in 1987. “They looked old. They actually looked like they were written on a typewriter,” Beck said.

“We’ve got 23-year-old guidelines,” Beck said. “It would seem that there should be some kind of bringing that up to date.”

Later that day the Planning Commission heard issues related to the county’s general plan update, where Beck once again brought up the issue of ridgeline development. During the Fallbrook Ranch hearing, he noted that the design review guidelines merely discourage ridgeline development without being specific. “It shouldn’t be ambiguous like that,” he said. “Just doesn’t feel right.”

Although a resolution with the wildlife agencies has taken place, the county has not yet received a Habitat Loss Permit concurrence letter. “It just doesn’t seem right that we would be acting to approve a map that doesn’t have a letter in our hands,” Beck said.

The concurrence letter will be required by the time any grading permits are issued. Grading and building permits cannot occur until a final map has been recorded. A tentative map becomes a final map after all conditions of the tentative map, other than those which cannot be fulfilled until a final map is recorded, have been met.

Letters of service availability have been provided by the Rainbow Municipal Water District, the North County Fire Protection District, the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District, and the Fallbrook Union High School District. Septic systems will be used for sanitation. Other tentative map conditions include the payment of all fees and deposits and the posting of bonds to ensure completion of the infrastructure and payment for labor and materials.

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