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San Diego County Postpones Vote On Growth Policy

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Semi-rural Valley Center seen in this photo from 2010

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San Diego County will do more public outreach before changing key principles in its general plan for where to build more housing in the backcountry.

San Diego County officials have decided to postpone a vote scheduled for this week that could allow thousands of new homes to be built in the unincorporated backcountry.

Major housing developments proposed for semi-rural land near Interstate 15, north of Escondido, are waiting for approval from the county Board of Supervisors.

To have a chance of approval, the board would need to first amend a key policy in the county’s general plan, which indicates where future growth should go.

Photo credit: San Diego County

San Diego County's Land Use Policy LU 1.2 which prohibits "Leapfrog " development.

Erin Chalmers, an attorney for the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, wrote a letter to the board warning them not to "back pedal" on the general plan, which was updated in 2011 after more than a decade of review.

“Any modification of the General Plan, especially one that would fundamentally alter its visions and plan for land use development, should not be taken lightly,” he wrote.

The two largest projects in the pipeline are Lilac Hills, east of I-15, and Newland Sierra, which would be in the hills west of I-15 and is a modification of the Merriam Mountains project, which was narrowly rejected by supervisors in 2009.

The developers, Accretive and Newland, say their projects are smart growth: sustainable, mixed use, master planned communities.

Together they would add about 4,000 homes in areas zoned in the county general plan for a few hundred houses. The underlying principle of the general plan, which cost an estimated $18 million to develop, is to locate future development close to existing infrastructure and minimize sprawl.

The San Diego Association of Governments , the region’s transit planning agency, has written to the county saying the area proposed for the new development was not identified as an opportunity area of smart growth. SANDAG asked the county supervisors to consider how it connects with the regional transit network.

“There’s really no way the region can meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals if it keeps allowing this far flung sprawl development,” Chalmers said.

The Sierra Club has successfully sued the county over its Climate Action Plan.

County officials say they’ll do more community outreach before asking the supervisors to vote on changing the general plan’s underlying principles. A vote scheduled for Wednesday has been postponed. However, staff's letter to the board says “continued efforts to conduct further analysis and outreach will not delay the processing of the current applications.”

A date has not been made public for consideration of the developments by the county Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, but it was expected to be sometime this summer.

Editors note.. an earlier version of this story incorrrectly said the Cleveland National Forest Foundation successfully sued the county over its Climate Action Plan. In fact it was the Sierra Club.

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