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Peppertree Park given until Dec. 8 to solve bridge security issue

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to continue proposed amendments to the subdivision map for Peppertree Park until December 8 to give Peppertree Village VI, LLC, staff and County of San Diego staff time to work out a mutually agreeable solution regarding security for the Ostrich Farms Creek Bridge.

“If we don’t have a solution within the six months, this is going to be dead,” said County Supervisor Bill Horn during the May 19 Board of Supervisors hearing. “We have to have security for the bridge.”

Peppertree Park has been in the processing stage since 1985, and in August 1991 the Board of Supervisors approved a specific plan for the Peppertree Park Planned Residential Development. The specific plan for the 162.9-acre site called for 267 single-family detached dwelling units, or a density of 1.65 dwelling units per acre. The 1991 approval also included a rezone, a tentative map, and a Major Use Permit.

Construction began in the late 1990s. Six of the 10 phased units have been recorded as final maps. A tentative map becomes a final map when the conditions of the tentative map (other than those for which permits cannot be issued until a final map is recorded) are met. A subdivision must have a final map before building or grading permits can be issued.

The most recent revision to the tentative map for Units 7 through 10 was approved by the county’s Planning Commission in November 2007 and included the realignment of the crossing of Ostrich Farms Creek by Pepper Tree Lane. That change, which resulted in the redesign of lots in Units 7 and 8, is the subject of the current proposed revision regarding the security bond requirement.

The remaining four units cover 48 homes and 54 total lots on 59.63 acres along with commercial buildings in Units 9 and 10. The timeline for constructing the four final phases will depend on financing and demand.

A construction lender has expressed interest in providing the financing to build Unit 7, but that financing is dependent upon the deferral of the requirement to provide security for the bridge. Peppertree Village VI, LLC, requested the two revisions from the most recent tentative map, neither of which affect zoning or density for the Peppertree Park project.

The conditions of the tentative map call for an interim fire access road between the eastern bridge abutment of Pepper Tree Lane and the intersection of Pepper Tree Lane and Loch Ness Drive. The current conditions require asphalt concrete paving and a standard base for the temporary road. The proposed change requires only the base - as long as it is sufficient - to support the weight of a fire truck and that the plans are to the satisfaction of the North County Fire Protection District.

(While the substitution will allow for cost savings, it will also eliminate asphalt which could not be re-used. The base material will have other usage once the temporary road is no longer needed.)

The conditions required before a final map can be recorded include the posting of a performance bond to ensure the completion of infrastructure improvements if the developer defaults as well as a labor and materials bond to ensure timely payment for the project’s labor and materials. Currently Peppertree Village VI, LLC, is required to improve the Ostrich Farms Creek Bridge within two years after recording the final map for Unit 8 or prior to the approval of rough grading for any grading work for Units 9 or 10, whichever is earlier. The proposed change would move the requirement to post security for the bridge construction from Unit 8 to Unit 9 or 10. The proposed amendment will not affect the requirement to post security for road improvements and a traffic roundabout associated with Unit 8.

While county Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU) staff was supportive of the change regarding the surface of the interim access road, concerns about the county’s responsibility in case of default caused county staff opposition to the proposed amendment to delay the security requirement for the bridge. On December 18 the Planning Commission voted to approve the access road surface change but to deny the postponement for the bridge security.

Duane Urquhart, the manager of Peppertree Village VI, LLC, and a principal in the project, appealed the Planning Commission’s decision to the Board of Supervisors. The original hearing date of March 3 was continued due to a medical issue. An April 14 hearing led to the continuance to May 19 in order for county staff and Urquhart to work out a solution.

Urquhart’s solution submitted May 18 still called for the bridge security requirement to be moved from Unit 8 to Units 9 and 10 but recommended additional conditions that prior to Unit 8 being recorded Peppertree Village VI, LLC, will provide a bridge construction cost estimate acceptable to the county’s Department of Public Works, pay for an appraisal of Units 9 and 10, and provide a title report covering Units 9 and 10 that would include any liens and the amount of those liens. Under the proposal, Unit 8 could not be recorded until the county determined that sufficient net value of Units 9 and 10 guaranteed bridge construction.

“It keeps the county in the driver’s seat throughout the whole process,” said attorney Bill Schwartz, who represented the project at the Board of Supervisors hearing. “The county’s in control over whether or not there’s sufficient security.”

DPLU staff was wary of the alternative measures. “They simply do not provide the security needed to ensure construction of the bridge,” said DPLU deputy director Jeff Murphy.

Urquhart noted that the cost of the bridge - which is not required to serve Units 7 or 8 - will add approximately $30,000 per lot to the cost of the project. The cost of the bridge impacts approximately 55 percent of the value of Units 7 and 8 but only approximately 30 percent of the value of Units 9 and 10.

“Staff does not work and live in our community,” said Fallbrook resident Mark Haskell. “This is one of the nicest projects in the county for the dollar.”

Haskell is professionally a fire protection analyst and retired from the Fountain Valley fire department as its fire chief. The completion of Units 7 and 8 will provide secondary access for existing as well as future Peppertree Park residents.

“One of the immediate improvements is access on the eastern edge,” Haskell said.

Haskell noted that the county wasn’t the only party at risk if the project is not completed. “Nobody’s taken a bigger risk on this project than Mr. Urquhart,” Haskell said.

If Urquhart defaults without security for the bridge, the county would be responsible for its construction. “I’m sympathetic to the economics of the area,” Horn said. “We don’t want something to be built and we wind up holding the bag.”

Thomas Montgomery of County Counsel advised against the solution proposal. “They are asking us to take a risk that the commercial market is not willing to take,” he said.

The ability to obtain a construction loan is based in part upon encumbrances or lack thereof. “We’ll have to find out if what they want is something we can provide,” Urquhart said. “We’re going to try and work on trying to find something.”

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