Snafu delays effort to rezone Safari Highlands

ESCONDIDO — An error in the draft environmental impact report for a controversial development north of the San Diego Safari Park is expected to push back an annexation vote to mid-2018.

The draft comment period was to expire on Dec. 7, but an administrative error led to the omission of several agencies being notified of the comment period. Currently, the property lies ouside the city limits in an unincorporated area of San Diego County; it is zoned for just 27 homes.

However, the massive project includes 550 estate homes dubbed Safari Highlands Ranch to be built by Concordia Homes of Carlsbad, if annexed into Escondido.

As for any possible delay regarding the project timeline, Ken Moore, a spokesman for Concordia Homes, said the plan remains on schedule.

“Safari Highlands Ranch is on track to continue positive momentum forward with no significant delays,” he added. “We look forward to delivering a community to Escondido that will create much-needed housing, improve public safety and provide meaningful benefits for local schools.”

As for the administrative hiccup, John Helmer, a consultant with the city on the project, said notifications for the comment period were not sent to one or two agencies, thus the city extended the deadline until Jan. 2, 2018.

Once the extension deadline passes, Helmer said the final EIR will be complete and the project will move forward to the Planning Commission and City Council for a vote.

Escondido Assistant City Planner Mike Strong said the Notice of Availability was discovered and the city wanted to make sure all parties had time to submit their comments.

“This discovery was made on the part of our own administrative staff,” Strong said in an email provided to The Coast News. “Even though these specific agencies received a copy of the Draft EIR to review, City staff wanted to ensure that there was a very clear record of its availability and record of notice. Since there have been no changes made to the Draft EIR, there is no need to re-circulate such notice more broadly.”

Strong’s email said even though the city received no request to formally post an extension, it did so in following precedent set by the ongoing Escondido Country Club project.

In addition to the homes at Safari Highlands Ranch, the plan includes building a new fire station at no cost of the city with equipment. Additionally, the project calls for 70 percent of the site to be open space, or 700 acres of the 1,098, to remain designated as such with nine miles of trails, which will be maintained by the homeowners association.

Safari Highlands Ranch will also help build or fund a new clubhouse for Eagle Crest Golf Club and road and traffic improvements throughout the city.

Residents also got to review the project during an open house at City Hall in November. Some, especially in the Rancho Vistamonte and Rancho San Pasqual communities, have sprung up in opposition.

Concerns center on blasting and moving millions of cubic feet of dirt, having only one access road into the project, subpar traffic improvements and tripling the traffic on Rockwood Road, which would lead into the development.

If approved, Safari Highlands Ranch would not be fully built out until 2026-27.

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