2017 should bring decision on Safari Highlands project
By J. Harry Jones | December 31, 2016
proposal to build 550 luxury homes along mountainous land
in the San Pasqual Valley should be decided this fall, after
delays in the project’s environmental report pushed the time
line back a few months.
Safari Highlands Ranch neighborhood would be the largest residential
project in Escondido in decades and would sit on 1,100-acres
of undeveloped land north of the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park.
The property is in an unincorporated area zoned for only 27
homes, but Escondido officials and developer Concordia Homes
are seeking to have the site annexed into the city, where
the path to approval seems clearer.
a draft environmental report was scheduled to have been released
about now, but the city demanded some changes that have delayed
the report until March or April, according to a consultant
hired to oversee the proposal. “It’s a very complicated project,”
project planner John Helmer said. “The whole thing is pretty
— who reports to the city, but whose salary is being covered
by Concordia — said he’s like Switzerland: a neutral party
guiding the project through the planning process before the
Escondido Planning Commission and City Council make decisions.
delay is the result of several changes requested by city planners,
including the elimination of an onsite water treatment plant
and a public park that had been planned near the entrance
to the project.
development is strongly opposed by hundreds of residents who
live in two communities just to the west Rancho San
Pasqual and Rancho Vista Monte which account for a
bit more than 650 houses. Others who live north of the site
also have problems with the proposal, as do people in surrounding
areas whose children go to an elementary school on Rockwood
Road, where traffic heading to and from Safari Highlands Ranch
nonprofit group called the San Pasqual Valley Preservation Alliance
has been actively campaigning against the project.
land up there, the chaparral, the different species that call
that area home to do what (the developers) want to
do up there will just forever change that land, said
San Pasqual resident NeySa Ely, who is helping lead the opposition.
I think it would be really sad to see that happen when
there is so much thats telling us its a bad plan in
a bad area.
City Councilwoman Olga Diaz has consistently said she would
never support the project, which she considers urban sprawl
of the worst kind. But other members of the business-friendly
council have defended Concordias rights to try to develop
the land. All have said the devil will be in the details.
said he believes the council will support the development.
think the council wants to see the right project done thats
not a fiscal drain on the city and one that provides benefits
to the community as a whole, the consultant said. They
want to make sure there are no significant environmental issues
that arent mitigated or compensated for.
nearly a decade the council has indicated its wants to see
high-end housing built in the city, which in turn might encourage
high-tech business to make Escondido their corporate homes.
said the average price of a home in Safari Highlands Ranch
will be $900,000. Larger, more expensive homes would be built
in the northern part of the project with smaller homes closer
to the entrance of the gated development.
a website for the project safarihighlandsranch.net
Concordia says the homes will be spread out over five
neighborhoods .. clustered to preserve the integrity of the
existing topographical aesthetics that make the area
unique. Roughly 760 acres will remain as permanent open space.
Homes representatives have been regularly meeting with community
groups to talk about the proposal and sending out updates
on the project. They say that in addition to the open
space the development will include a new fully equipped
7,000 square foot fire station; traffic signals and improvement
on Cloverdale and Rockwood Road; over nine miles of public
trails; and a new clubhouse/restaurant as well as improvements
to the nearby Eagle Crest golf course.
of the major sticking points with critics is that the development
will feature only one main access road, along with two emergency
roads that can only be used in the event of a major fire
like the massive Witch Creek/Guejito blaze that swept through
the property in 2007. Whether the property has a legal easement
to use the southern emergency road, which would be an extension
of Zoo Road which runs past the back gate of Safari Park,
is a point of legal contention one that a judge may
one day have to decide.
the city consultant, said the fire/emergency road access is
likely to be the developments biggest challenge because
this is basically one long cul-de-sac.
is a high fire hazard area, he said. There is
no question about that.
says the projects flaws are too numerous to list, though
the preservation group has created a website, savesanpasqualvalley.com,
that tries to lay them out.
of the statistics that have come out are just mind-boggling,
she said, including one that says crews will have to remove
2.7 million cubic yards of earth to build the homes.
said the citys own General Plan discourages urban sprawl
and instead emphasizes revitalization of existing communities.
DeLano, a local environmental attorney retained by the alliance,
said Safari Highlands is another version of what Accretive
Investments wanted to do with the 1,746-unit Lilac HIlls Ranch
project in Valley Center that voters countywide rejected in
the same kind of monster project on the edge of whatever,
the draft environmental report is released, a 45-day comment
period will go into effect. The city will then address concerns
raised during the comment period and in all likelihood the
project will go before the citys Planning Commission
in late summer or early fall. A month later it should head
to the City Council for a final vote.
this time, the countys Local Agency Formation Commission
will also be processing the citys annexation request.
760/529-4931; Twitter: @jharryjones
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