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Merriam Mountain Development Fails To Get Approval

A development that would bring thousands of new homes to rural north San Diego County failed to get approval from the San Diego Board of Supervisor yesterday. But the Merriam Mountain project near Interstate 15 may be back on the agenda in January.

The Stonegate/Merriam Mountain development is a huge master planned project designed to put more than 2,600 homes in the hills west of Interstate 15, north of Escondido.. It would also dedicate more than 1,000 acres of open space, almost 90 acres of parks, and 18 miles of trails.

As Jo Perring, the project manager, told the board at the packed public meeting, it’s the result of years of high stakes negotiations with various interest groups.

“The project consolidates 58 parcels into one ownership,” Perring said, “creating the potential for comprehensive master planning with an unprecedented array of features and community benefits.”

One of the benefits for the supervisors is that the developer would spend $63 million on infrastructure, like widening roads. That’s something the county has no money to do.

Like every jurisdiction in San Diego, the county is in the process of figuring out where to put a million more people predicted to arrive here by 2020.

District 5 Supervisor, Bill Horn, wants Merriam Mountain to get an exemption from the General Plan, which suggests only about 300 homes be built there.

But Board Chair Dianne Jacob points out the decision to approve or deny the project could set a precedent for the whole backcountry. “This project I believe has ramifications for the entire unincorporated area, not just District 5 or the north county area,” she said.

In the last few years, contentious issues have emerged as major barriers to growth in the backcountry. One of them is water.

Alan Binns, who lives in the Deer Springs area near the proposed development, says rural residents are already being forced to cut off watering their fruit trees

“I’m a little confused, like a lot of people in San Diego county are confused,” Binns said. “Are we having a water problem or is there not a water problem?”

In fact, the Vallecitos Water District doesn’t have to guarantee it can provide water services to the new homes until after the supervisors decide whether to approve the project.

Another issue is fire. The development does include fire breaks and a new fire station. But Bruce Tebbs with the Deer Springs Fire Protection District Board says the problem is people won’t be able to get out if there’s a major wildfire.

“There is no evacuation plan,” Tebbs reminded the Supervisors. “And because there is no evacuation plan, there can be no fire protection plan.”

Again, the planning process requires an evacuation plan, but not until after the project is denied or approved.

More than 100 people signed up to oppose the project but over 50 people registered equally passionate support. Dennis Sullivan of Escondido said he wants young families to be able to live in San Diego County.

“Over the last ten or 15 years, they have been forced to move into south Riverside, to Temecula, Murrieta and Hemet,” Sullivan said, “because they could not find affordable quality housing in North County.”

But Lael Montgomery of Valley Center begged the Supervisors to remember that they have spent the last ten years working on a plan for where to put growth: the General Plan Update. That Update, to be approved next year, says the area where Stonegate wants to built more than 2,000 homes should have fewer than 100 new houses.

“Stonegate Merriam un-glues the General Plan’s most basic principals. Worse, it sets the precedent for a convoy of engorged projects that are coming fast behind it.”

After five hours of testimony, Supervisors Dianne Jacob and Pam Slater Price voted against the project, Bill Horn and Greg Cox supported it. Supervisor Ron Roberts was away on other business in Sacramento, and without a tie breaker, the project was left hanging. Supervisor Bill Horn, who has been heavily lobbied by the developer, isn’t giving up.

“The applicant has spent $1.5 million in fees to the County of San Diego,” Horn said. “I think they have a right to be heard by the full board.”

It is now up to Supervisor Ron Roberts to decide whether to resurrect the matter. He has 30 days to decide whether or not to reopen the public hearings on the high stakes project.

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Avatar for user 'Responsible'

Responsible | December 12, 2009 at 7:24 p.m. ― 7 years, 3 months ago

As with most circumstances in life with the passage of time comes change. At the recent BOS hearing I listened to Ms Karen Binns speaking of moving to the Deer Springs area some 26 years ago and she described what the area was then and I concur. Back then the Deer Springs/Twin Oaks Valley area was very definitively a rural community. But we are here now and must deal with our current community makeup and look to our futures.

The opponents of the Merriam Mountains Proj would have all believe that this area is a‘quiet’ rural community. I speak as a resident living on Deer Springs Rd for the last 10 years. The reality of life with the increase in urban activities which include the growth of CSUSM and Palomar College,build out of TOV Ranch and the approval of TERI, just naming a few, is this community is no longer a quiet ‘rural’ community. Deer Sprgs Rd is a major road that serves many vehicles everyday, it has done so for many years; there is nothing ‘quiet’ about living here. I am very surprised that the Golden Door who has been complaining for years about the noise from Deer Sprgs Rd would not welcome the developer’s mitigation solutions to help lessen the “existing” noise impact on their business. As I sit in my home tonight what I hear is the constant flow of traffic down on Deer Sprgs Rd. Obviously, just as with the Golden Door the noise issue has nothing to do with the proposed project it is just a real fact of living in this community.

Now as far as water supply everything is cyclical, yes we have shortages at present but we are talking about “planning” for the future – the opponents it seems would have everything just “stop”; of course there is a water issue but it is only sensible that if there is not ample water supply then build out will not be possible until it is resolved. We are talking about the future. Effective “planning” is the ability to project forward the supply availability which must exist for build out and respond accordingly not just too speculate that there won’t be a sufficient supply.

Sup Jacobs said, “well planned project…just not here”, Well why not here? Our community has problems and this developer over the last decade has shown that they are willing to be a part of our community and join with us in developing a better community for all of us. The Merriam Mountains project plan will be responding to a current significant fire threat in an unmanaged open area that covers a few thousand acres and they will be responsible for implementing a local area fire plan that currently doesn’t exist. There will be infrastructure improvements, parks and equestrian trails. Additionally, where else should growth be encouraged if not close to a major freeway – the I15.

Yes, it is tough to make decisions that provide so definitively a plan for the future but that is what is needed now for this small unincorporated area of our county.

Please read the EIR for this project before you assume you know the details…..

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