After delay, Desert Rose project moving toward final approval

After delay, Desert Rose project moving toward final approval
The developers behind the Desert Rose subdivision are expected to soon seek a final map from the city of Encinitas, one of the last steps before construction begins on the controversial project in Olivenhain.

ENCINITAS — It has been two years since neighbors lost a legal battle to require a developer of a controversial 16-unit Olivenhain subdivision to conduct a more stringent environmental study.

Now, it appears that the developers of the Desert Rose development are moving forward with the project, and could appear before the Planning Commission as early as February for final city approval.

City Planner Roy Sapa’u confirmed that Woodridge Farms Estates, the project developer, is in the process of obtaining approval for a grading permit and a final map, the penultimate and final steps before project construction. Sapa’u said the developer and city have gone through several rounds of review and have “one or two” more rounds before the city issues the grading permit.

Though the grading permit is approved by staff without a public hearing, the final map would have to go before the Planning Commission.

The Coast News reached out to attorney Marco Gonzalez, who represents the developer, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

The developer of the project, a so-called “density bonus” development, clashed with neighbors for several years at the council and court levels.

State law allows for developers to build extra, or “bonus” homes on land if one or more of the homes are earmarked for low-income residents.

Encinitas residents have complained the projects alter the character of the community with oversized and super-dense units and cause other environmental woes, such as increased traffic, fire hazards and damage to wetlands in the case of Desert Rose.

After the city approved Desert Rose and the companion environmental report in 2013, Save Desert Rose filed a lawsuit against the city and developer to compel an environmental report. In 2014, Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes ruled in the citizens group’s favor.

The developer then appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, which unanimously reversed the lower court’s decision in late 2015.

Save Desert Rose then filed for the state Supreme Court to review the case, but the state’s high court declined review in late January 2016.

Neighbors who were part of the Save Desert Rose group have tried to keep updated on the project, and said that the developer put the land up for sale sometime in 2016.

While they are resigned to the fact that the project will move forward after exhausting all of their legal measures, they said they still have many of the concerns they did when they sued, namely concerns over fire and access and egress in the event of a natural disaster.

“Our major concern remain fire safety and egress,” said Bill Butler, a co-founder of Save Desert Rose. “The project will likely add 30 vehicles that will have to not only get out of the neighborhood, but also get onto Rancho Santa Fe (road), which, depending on the time of day, is almost impossible. These are legitimate concerns.”

Butler and Mark Branson, Save Desert Rose’s other co-founder, wrote an update to the neighbors alerting them that the plans were moving forward.

In the update, they wrote that a community advisory group could be formed to offer suggestions to the developer, though they gave no timeline as to when that group would be formed.

“As you know after a long series Planning Commission meetings, City Council meetings and litigation that involved three different courts, the developer prevailed,” the update states. “We have exhausted all legal processes that were available. There are no further actions available. We will, however, stay involved and monitor activity of the proposed Desert Rose Subdivision.

“Consideration is being given to establishing a community advisory group to interact with the potential builder and to offer suggestions, if our input is solicited. The goal would be to make the process and the final product be as safe, aesthetically pleasing and the least disruptive to our existing community,” the update concludes.

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