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Lilac Hills Challenges San Diego County’s General Plan For Growth

Photo by Beverley Woodworth

Site of the proposed Lilac Hills Ranch, May 2015.

The Lilac Hills project would build hundreds of homes on farmland near Valley Center. The San Diego County's Planning Commission will discuss the project on Friday.

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County Staff Report on Lilac Hills

County Staff Report on Lilac Hills

County Staff Report on Lilac Hills Ranch Project

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Comments from Former Planning Commissioner Patsy Fritz

Comments from Former Planning Commissioner Pats...

Comments on Lilac Hills Proposal from opponent, Patsy Fritz.

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The Lilac Hills project would build hundreds of homes on farmland near Valley Center. A San Diego County’s Planning Commission hearing Friday on the project is likely to be packed.

Lilac Hills is the first major challenge to the County’s General Plan for how to develop the unincorporated areas. If approved, it would allow more than 1,700 homes to be built on rural agricultural land near Valley Center, where the plan calls for no more than 110 homes.

The developer, Accretive Investments, started buying farmland in the area 10 years ago before the General Plan was passed. The company hopes to get an amendment to allow it to go ahead by arguing it's a “green “ development: with walking and biking trails, its own water recycling plant and recycling center, and 22 percent of the electricity would be provided with solar panels.

But opponents said most new developments these days are “green” and that’s not the point. Their problem is with the location. They said the General Plan, which took 13 years to hammer out, was designed to cut green house gasses by assigning land for new development near existing main roads, schools and fire stations.

Patsy Fritz, a former planning commissioner who sat though the early years of debate over the county’s General Plan, said the decision on whether to make an exception for Lilac Hills will set a precedent.

“It’s so remote from jobs and public transit that it will generate huge amounts of greenhouse gas, and that just doesn’t fly with state requirements and the county’s own interest in cleaning up the climate," Fritz said.

The developer describes the site as half a mile from Interstate 15. But opponents said it is a mile and a half from the freeway, down narrow country roads that the developer is not proposing to widen.

Steve Hutchison of the Valley Center Planning Groups said the County’s General Plan — passed just four years ago at a cost of more than $18 million — specifically prohibited projects like Lilac Hills, which some describe as leapfrog development.

“It’s all about the money. Farmland, especially remote farmland, is relatively inexpensive compared to land that’s closer in to existing villages, “ Hutchison said. "The profit margin is potentially much bigger if you take hundreds of acres of farmland and build houses on it."

The Planning Commission meeting will start with a closed session where the members will hear about potential litigation. Already letters have been received from law firms, challenging the project.

After several years of review, county staff is recommending approval of Lilac Hills with some conditions. Planning Commissioners will listen to at least a full day of public testimony, as well as going on a site visit next week, before making a recommendation, probably in September.

The Board of Supervisors could vote to approve or reject the project this October.

Other big development plans, like Newland Sierra, Warner Ranch and Rancho Guejito are waiting in the wings to see if the supervisors will stick with the General Plan or grant major amendments.

The Planning Commission hearing will take place at 9 a.m. Friday at the County Operations Center's Hearing Room at 5520 Overland Ave. in San Diego.

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