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Supervisors reject Merriam Mountains project

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors rejected the proposed Stonegate Merriam Mountains development.

The supervisors’ 3-2 vote March 24 denied the proposed zone reclassification, general plan amendment, specific plan amendment, vesting tentative map, and site plan associated with the project. Supervisors Dianne Jacob, Pam Slater-Price, and Ron Roberts voted to deny the project while Supervisors Greg Cox and Bill Horn voted in favor of the proposal.

“This project severely violates both our existing general plan and our general plan update,” Jacob said.

The existing general plan allows for 345 homes on the site.

The proposal called for 2,700 residential units of various housing types in six different neighborhoods, although when the county’s Planning Commission voted 5-2 October 23 to recommend conditional approval of the project the conditions included replacing a 77-unit multi-family complex in one of the neighborhoods with one-acre lots which equated to seven units.

David Pallinger represented the Planning Commission at the county supervisors’ March 24 hearing. “After touring the site, I feel that the site as it currently stands is a far greater fire hazard to the community than the proposed project,” Pallinger said.

The county supervisors heard debate on the development December 9, and a 2-2 vote denied the project the three votes needed for passage. Roberts was in Sacramento for a California Air Resources Board meeting the day of the original hearing and asked for a reconsideration of the matter, and on January 13 the supervisors voted 3-2 to grant a new hearing and take another vote on the project.

The 10 weeks between the reconsideration and the final hearing also gave County Counsel an opportunity to investigate allegations that Horn should recuse himself due to inappropriate contact with the project applicant. County Counsel determined that no legal basis existed to disqualify Horn from voting.

Representatives of Stonegate Merriam Mountains held more than 500 community meetings. “This is the right time and the right place and the right project,” said Merriam Mountains project manager Joe Perring.

The speaker slips for the hearing included two group presentations in favor of the project, 58 individuals supporting the project, and 60 individuals opposed. Those who registered positions but did not wish to speak consisted of 62 supporters and 44 opponents.

“It takes advantage of its location next to existing infrastructure,” Perring said. “We are wisely using existing infrastructure, filling gaps, and correcting existing

deficiencies.”

The project was opposed by Wallace Tucker, the chair of the Fallbrook Land Conservancy. “This project will set a dangerous precedent,” Tucker said. “It’s not just an amendment. It’s a hole in the general plan.”

While opponents noted that the housing was not needed at this time, former City of San Marcos Planning Commission member Jim Hernandez noted that victims of foreclosures tend to live with relatives rather than leaving the county and will seek to purchase homes once again during better economic times.

Hernandez also noted the infrastructure contributions which would have been provided by Stonegate Merriam Mountains. “It’s going to provide services and amenities that the county for 40 years has not been able to do,” he said.

Five of the Merriam Mountains neighborhoods would have been northwest of Interstate 15 and Deer Springs Road while residential estate homes would have been built in southern Bonsall. The clustering of residences in the five southern neighborhoods created a biological open space buffer of 1,192 acres between the southern residential and commercial portion and the Bonsall neighborhood. The development was also slated to include 10.1 acres in the southeast portion for commercial and civic uses, 37 parks of various categories totaling 88.83 acres, and approximately 18.3 miles of trails.

In addition to providing recreational activities for residents, the parks would have been part of a 537-acre fuel modification zone for fire protection. Manufactured and natural slopes and other open space areas, as well as the parks, would have been irrigated to provide buffer zones of 150 to 200 feet from the edge of building pads. Emergency access roads would also have been built.

Deer Springs Road would have been widened from two lanes to four, and off-site intersection improvements included the ramps at I-15 and Deer Springs Road and at I-15 and Gopher Canyon Road.

The Merriam Mountains project also proposed to replace the existing Deer Springs Fire Protection District station south of Deer Springs Road with a new and larger station within the project boundaries. The Bonsall estate homes were to be accessed from existing private roads, which would have remained private roads but would have been improved to current standards.

In his vote against the project, Roberts noted that the county was between general plans, as an update is in process, and that he was concerned about the project’s compliance with state greenhouse gas reduction legislation. “There’s two things that I

think are lacking for me,” he said.

When Roberts expressed support for reconsideration he felt that issues raised during the December 9 hearing needed to be addressed by county staff and the applicant prior to the new hearing. Those issues included water availability, traffic, fire protection, construction-related noise, and the appropriateness of density in the particular location, and as well as compliance with state greenhouse gas reduction legislation.

“The evidence supports that there won’t be enough water for this project,” Jacob said. “The numbers just don’t add up.”

Jacob also cited the concept of putting a residential development in what is surrounded by rural communities. “My concern about this project is the precedent-setting nature of it,” she said.

“It’s an urban-style development,” Jacob said. “This is like putting the City of Del Mar in a rural residential area.”

Based on a county formula, the homes would have equated to 7,614 residents.

“My concerns have been and continue to be the general plan process,” said Slater-Price. “We need to have a process with integrity.”

Cox noted that the project received a service letter from the Vallecitos Water District stating that sufficient water was available for the project. “We have to rely on other public agencies,” he said.

“This was a quality project,” Horn said.

“This is on a major corridor,” Horn said. “I really don’t want this kind of development east of the 15.”

The proposal’s zoning changes included removal of the MRZ-2 mineral reserve zone which allows for a quarry in the area; that land would have become the open space buffer area. “What is about a thousand acres is still zoned to be a rock quarry,” Horn said.

The current options of Stonegate Merriam Mountains include a quarry as well as a new residential development plan with lower density. Perring noted that no specific plans for the property have been finalized.

“We’ll assemble our management team and our brain thrust and figure out what to do next,” he said.

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