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Lilac Hills Ranch Proposal Challenges County General Plan

One of the largest new developments proposed for San Diego County’s rural back country reaches a milestone Wednesday: The Lilac Hill Ranch would add more than 1,700 homes in the hills north of Escondido, currently zoned for 110 homes.

The planned community of Lilac Hills Ranch is billed as a sustainable, smart growth development in the rolling hills east of Interstate 15. The area is currently a rural community where West Lilac Road winds between scattered homes and small farms.

Chris Brown, of the developer Accretive Investments, said the Draft Environmental Impact Report, a collection of more than 50 documents, was released Wednesday.

“It’s a 1,746 unit project,” Brown said, “that consists of parks, trails, open space, agriculture. There’ll be commercial elements, schools, obviously homes, and then at the very final stages of the project there’ll be some senior care facility.”

But local resident Mark Jackson said if this plan is approved, nothing in the county’s general plan is safe. County Supervisors spent more than a decade updating their general plan to specify areas where future growth would occur, Jackson said, and Lilac Hills was not one of them.

“The general plan, approved in August 2011, has the area designed as semi-rural,” he said, “and the general plan was designed for a reason, because of the topography. There is inadequate infrastructure to support that level of urban density.“

Photo credit: Youtube - Mark Jackson

West Lilac Road

Jackson said the site is linked to Interstate 15 by miles of narrow country roads that cannot sustain thousands of extra commuters. The nearest major employment centers, he said, are in places like San Marcos and Rancho Bernardo.

Brown of Accretive said the developer plans to work with the county to contribute to improvements in the two lane road in some places. He said the general plan amendment process allows for changes.

“The argument that just because it took 14 years to do something, you don’t touch it or change it, I don’t agree,” he said, “ I think you change it if it needs to be changed, and you change it to accommodate growth, new techniques, new planning, new technology — it’s a living breathing document.”

When asked why the supervisors had agreed to zone the area for just 110 homes during the exhaustive general plan update process, county staff replied:

“Please note that general plans set the general philosophy and policies that determine what gets built where, and how communities will accommodate growth, while preserving character and protecting what the community values. But, planning systems also allow people to propose projects that would require general plan amendments because they do not conform to the general plan in some way. General Plan Amendments are required to go through rigorous environmental study and to be approved by the County Board of Supervisors.”

The public has 45 days to comment on the draft Environmental Impact Report for Lilac Hills Ranch.

Brown said he hopes the San Diego County’s Planning Commission will vote on the project later this year, followed soon after by a vote of the Board of Supervisors. But county staff said a vote on the project is not expected until later next year.

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