ESCONDIDO — Residents packed City Hall to halt the proposal of an upscale master planned community with 550 homes in the rural area north of the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park on Wednesday night.
“Please keep your cluster housing and urban sprawl within the confines of the city and not in my backyard,” said Escondido resident Josie Ackerman before a standing room only crowd.
The development, called Safari Highlands Ranch, is laden with an extensive number of requirements including annexation from San Diego County into Escondido, additional water infrastructure, and emergency access routes.
City Council was charged with authorizing city staff to fully analyze the project, a process that could take up to three years.
Proposed by Concordia Communities, LLC., Safari Highlands Ranch would include up to 550 single-family homes, a new fire station, and community center on 1,100 acres.
The initial plans have laid out five separate neighborhoods along Rockwood Road and leave over 600 acres of open space.
Neighbors living within San Pasqual Valley cited a litany of unmitigable impacts, including overcrowding the San Pasqual Union School District, traffic, emergency access to the fire-prone area, and negative environmental effects.
“It’s beautiful natural environment up there and we don’t want it disturbed by over development,” said one local.
“The road structure that serves Rancho San Pasqual now is barely adequate,” said another.
“The development fees that we get will not cover those costs (of building a new school),” said Jennifer Burrows, board president of the San Pasqual Union School District.
“You cannot sprawl your way into prosperity,” said Laura Hunter. “There’s no water, there’s no infrastructure, (and) there’s no money.”
Residents urged the City Council to not allow the project to even be analyzed.
Except for one public speaker who supported the project for attracting wealthy residents to Escondido, the only other advocate of the project before council was the developer.
“This will be a high-end neighborhood that we are confident is going to be a benefit to city, to the community, and to the people who live here,” said Don Underwood, the president of Concordia Homes.
Though acknowledging the pleas of the community, four of the city council members emphasized that the decision before them was whether or not to allow for further consideration of the development and would not guarantee final approval of Safari Highlands Ranch.
“We are not approving any project tonight, we are approving the study of the project,” said Council member John Masson. “I have a real problem with nipping this in the bud.”
“What it boils down to me an individual’s rights to explore what they can do with their own individual property,” said Council member Michael Morasco.
Council member Ed Gallo added that when the project is fully planned and analyzed by staff, “It may look totally different or it may not at all.”
“If I have to vote on this project as proposed, my vote would be no today,” said Mayor Sam Abed. “But, I’m not voting on an initiation on approving this project.”
Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz adamantly opposed the project.
“Everything that is commonly referred to as smart growth was not followed with this project,” she said, explaining that it did not make sense to build such dense housing in a rural area on the far east side of the city.
“There are so many flaws in the plan: fire, water, roads, (and) schools,” she added.
She said she was against spending city staff’s time and the developer’s money working on a project that ultimately is going to be rejected.
In 2003, the previous owner of the land proposed building 403 homes, a hotel, golf course, and equestrian center. Escondido’s Planning Commission recommended denying the plan, and the proposal was dropped before coming before council.
“I think we should support this to find out once and for all if this project could even be built,” said Abed.
City Council voted 4-1, with Diaz opposing, to allow Safari Highlands Ranch to be studied by staff.