OCEANSIDE — The Planning Commission did not support the North River Farms development proposed for the South Morro Hills community during project feedback on Monday. Instead commissioners asked the city to move forward with an updated Vision Plan for the farming community.
The Planning Commission’s request for a Vision Plan comes at a time when Oceanside farmlands sit at a crossroads. Farming is not economically viable, landowners are beginning to sell, and the city is studying agritourism.
Integral Communities’ North River Farms development proposes 680 to 985 homes, 2.2 acres of commercial space, 17 acres of farmland, and some open space on the 177-project site.
The developer promises agriculture land and education programs to benefit multiple generations, and shared examples of urban revitalization, and restoration of deserted farms to highlight benefits of the project.
Contrary to examples shared, the proposed development requires a land use amendment and zoning change to allow high-density housing to be built on prime farmland.
Commissioner Curt Busk summed up the disparity.
“I love your vision, but don’t see how this development represents any of your vision, it’s a standard subdivision,” Busk said.
Residents turned out in droves to oppose the project. Many who spoke were Oceanside farmers, including gentleman farmer and musician Jason Mraz.
Speakers called the project urbanization of farmland, and described it as an isolated high-density development, away from services and transit, with a two-lane road in and out.
“I’m very concerned about this project,” Oceanside resident Karen Green said. “We’re talking about an urbanized farm. It has 10 to 13 times the (area) density, and has an opportunity to domino. We have a situation of ruining our farming community.”
Residents asked who would pay for needed infrastructure, roads and additional city services, and shared concerns that they, as taxpayers, would foot the bill.
Worries about the lack of an updated community Vision Plan, patchwork development, and piecemeal zoning were also widely shared.
“It’s unique farmland, we should have the opportunity to have a Vision Plan laid out without pressure from the outside development community,” Oceanside resident Dale Disharoon said.
City staff did not recommend the project. On the list of city screening criteria it failed on all counts. It is not in a smart growth area, the site would not satisfy the city housing demand, and it would not help balance the city’s jobs to housing ratio, which is heavy on housing.
The project site also lacks adequate roads, water and sewer infrastructure.
The commission’s recommendation of a Vision Plan moved ongoing agritourism efforts forward.
Developing an updated Vision Plan has been discussed as a goal of the city’s agritourism study, but was originally seen as an effort a year or two out.
Commissioner Claudia Troisi said farmers need immediate options, and a Vision Plan that gives them choices beyond one home per 2.5-acre development or farming, which are available now.
Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery attended the meeting. His comment afterwards was that he still has questions about how to finance agritourism efforts, which like development would need city infrastructure and roads improvements.
The City Council will give the North River Farms project feedback and consider the commission’s request for an updated South Morro Hills Vision Plan in March.