REGION — A proposed 1,700-home master planned community near Valley Center is headed to the County Board of Supervisors, after the County Planning Commission voted June 8 not to rehear the project.
But opponents of the project said they likely will sue to have it reheard by the planning group.
The commission voted 5-0, with two commissioners absent, to advance the Lilac Hills Ranch Proposal to the supervisors, despite staff’s recommendation that the body hold additional hearings to address what they called “substantial changes” to the project. The Valley Center Community Planning Group and a group of residents who have opposed the project since its inception urged the commission to side with its staff.
Lilac Hills Ranch owners contended that the changes made since the Planning Commission’s approval in September 2015 were incorporating the recommendations the commission provided but developers did not explicitly include in their failed 2016 ballot measure attempt, Measure B.
The commissioners sided with the developer’s argument.
“All of the changes are to the betterment of the project,” Commissioner Bryan Woods said. “After 10 years, enough is enough, the board needs to make a decision and move on.”
Lilac Hills Ranch Vice President John Rilling said the group is eager to move the project one step closer to fruition.
“We’re extremely excited because the commission voted first to confirm that we followed the process and second that we incorporated everything they asked for so the Board of Supervisors can consider us for approval,” Rilling said. “We believe this is a great community and is going to provide attainable homes for working families in exactly the right location, along the I-15 growth corridor.”
Lilac Hills Ranch calls for 1,746 homes and a 200-unit assisted living facility on 608 acres in the largely rural area adjacent to Valley Center and south of Fallbrook. It also includes more than 200 acres of parks and open space and 16 miles of trails, three community centers and pools, a village square and 90,000 square foot of retail, office and commercial space.
The project is now under the control of a new development team, Ranch Capital LLC, and its subsidiary, Village Communities. Ranch Capital was a financial backer of the earlier version of the project headed by Randy Goodson of Accretive Investments. Goodson and Accretive are no longer involved.
The developer and residents have sparred over the project for more than a decade. Supporters have argued that the project is an example of smart growth, and it would help the county ease a growing housing crunch while also preserving open space, developing parks and shopping that will keep motorists from driving long trips for amenities. They have called it “San Elijo Hills on steroids.”
But opponents have argued that the project doesn’t meet the county’s general plan standards, doesn’t have an adequate fire protection plan and doesn’t adequately address the increase in traffic to the area — it is estimated that the project will generate nearly 15 times the traffic that nearby Valley Center sees daily.
Following the Planning Commission’s approval of the project in 2015 with several recommendations, the developer at the time, Accretive Investments, pushed for a ballot initiative as opposed to fully incorporating the commission’s provisos, which included a turnkey K-8 school, lowering fire response times to five minutes from the proposed seven- to nine-minute time estimated by developers, as well as several private and public road improvements.
Voters rejected the ballot proposal in November 2016.
The developer unveiled its revised plan in early 2018, boasting that it was the “county’s first carbon-neutral village in San Diego County and the first community to meet the county’s guidelines for New Villages, which is the highest standard a project can achieve under the County’s General Plan,” according to the website.
Among the changes from the former project included the installation of electric vehicle charging stations at every residence, rooftop solar on every residence and 45 percent of non-residential building roof space, implementing a variety of carpool, transit, and vehicle-sharing programs, and achieving carbon neutrality through the purchase of carbon offsets.
Planning staff recommended the commission revisit its approval, citing a court case that it said demonstrated that the changes made warranted further review. Staff additionally noted that environmental review and traffic studies done on the current plan showed that the traffic impacts have significantly increased since the previous approval, though this could not factor into the commission’s decision.
Ann Moore, an attorney representing the developer, argued that the case staff used to justify its recommendations said that the changes must change the project’s land use to warrant a rehearing.
None of the land-use designations were changed from the 2015 approval to the current project, Moore said.
A number of residents showed up to the Friday morning meeting in support of the development, wearing olive green shirts and urging the commission to move the project forward.
Fallbrook resident Paul Schumann said he likened the changes to the project to cosmetic improvements on a car.
“We now have a better car, but we don’t have a different car,” Schumann said. “It’s the same car.”
James Gordon, one of the chief representatives of the group of residents opposed to the project, said the group could turn to the courts to force the project back to the commission level if they can’t successfully lobby the Board of Supervisors to return it.
“I am surprised, I know they didn’t want to hear the project again, they alluded to that at an earlier meeting,” Gordon said. “But I was surprised that they went against staff. Thumbs up to their staff for getting it right though.”
Gordon said the group of residents, which has written thousands of correspondences and spent an equal amount of hours on the project since its inception, would gird for the Board of Supervisors hearing, which could occur as early as this fall.
Rilling said he was disappointed to hear that residents might sue to force the Planning Commission to rehear the project, which would further delay it.
“We’re following all of the goals and policies of the General Plan and all of the new state laws,” Rilling said. “It’s unfortunate that a few people that don’t want more people to afford to live here would use litigation as a threat.”