Above: Multiple signs reading “VOTER: NO NO NRF” were scattered throughout the audience during Oceanside City Council’s May 22 meeting. Many residents oppose the North River Farms development project, which was supposed to be considered by Council that evening but was postponed. Photo by Samantha Taylor
OCEANSIDE — City Council postponed consideration of the North River Farms development project at its May 22 meeting against the wishes of many frustrated residents who say planning for the project has already dragged out long enough.
The North River Farms Planned Development Project first filed its application with the city on Aug. 8, 2016. Project developers sought to amend the city’s current land use and zoning designations to allow a 176.6-acre mixed-use development in the South Morro Hills community, divided into northern and southern sections by North River Road between Stallion Drive and Wilshire Road.
South Morro Hills is a community comprised of approximately 3,500 acres of agriculturally zoned land. Currently, the North River Farms project property has agricultural land use and zoning designations along with a scenic park overlay in the site’s southern area.
Historically, the land has been used for crop production, is developed with various agricultural structures and vacant residences and is still presently used for farming.
In its initial application, the North River Farms development plan included 680 to 985 residential units with various densities with associated agricultural, commercial, open space and recreational uses.
The application was subject to a General Plan Amendment screening process to gain input from City Council and the Planning Commission in early 2017, after which the applicant submitted refinements to the initial application that currently include up to 656 residential units, 30,000 square feet of commercial space, a 100-room boutique hotel and 31.6 acres for agricultural use.
In January, the Planning Commission held a public hearing on the project and voted 3-1-1 recommending City Council to deny the project. Council was originally supposed to consider the project on March 13, but the applicant requested that hearing be vacated as it would be presenting additional project information and modifications to the project.
Those changes included a perpetual use restriction of 42 additional acres outside of the project boundaries for open space and agricultural use; reserving about 1.5 acres or a future hotel site for a period of 10 years; preparing a cost allocation study as part of a pending vision plan for South Morro Hills; constructing a second northbound right turn lane on North River Road at Vandegrift Boulevard; contributing $500,000 to help the city in the process of implementing the Melrose Bridge; and road connection between North River Road and state Route 76, and paying the city $100,000 to fund Climate Action Plan implementation measures.
Planning Commission reconsidered the project on May 6, but despite the changes made commissioners in a 6-0 vote with one recused still recommended that council deny the project.
According to the commissioners, the project would not be consistent with smart growth, is premature in light of the upcoming General Plan update and the pending South Morro Hills Vision Plan, conflicts with the General Plan’s policies to preserve agricultural land and has the potential to set precedent for further development of agricultural land.
Had the May 22 hearing on the project’s consideration occurred, staff would have recommended that council deny the project despite the changes.
On May 21, a legal representative of the applicant wrote to City Manager Michelle Skaggs Lawrence asking for yet another postponement of the hearing to make additional changes.
“In response to comments received from the public, the applicant is considering certain modifications to the Project and/or its conditions, which require additional time and effort to evaluate,” wrote Kimberly Foy of Gatzke Dillon and Ballance LLP.
The modifications will be reviewed by city staff, which the postponement of the hearing will allow before a public hearing is conducted.
Many residents of Oceanside, specifically those in the South Morro Hills area, are opposed to the project. Council chambers were packed with residents opposed to the project carrying signs reading “NO NO NRF.”
“Basically the same comments have been made by the public for well over a year now, and I don’t see that there is anything new that can be added,” Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said.
Sanchez also pointed out that the project has been in the works for a while now and has already had a public hearing postponed once.
“I think that we have the information and I believe we should go forward,” she said, followed by applause from the audience.
Councilman Ryan Keim also didn’t want to postpone the project’s hearing.
“I think it’s important to move forward and hold the public hearing and have some resolution on this issue,” he said.
Councilman Chris Rodriguez thought the applicant should be given another chance to make additional changes.
“Out of respect for the process of modifying and the tug o’ war that developments like Arrowood went through for many years, and in that tug o’ war we have an amazing development that many of you in this room may live in,” Rodriguez said. “You wouldn’t have a home right now if that tug o’ war and that public process did not go through.”
Council voted 3-2, with Sanchez and Keim opposed, to postpone consideration of the North River Farms development project.
Samantha Taylor covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son