SDUT: ENVIRONMENTAL AND CLIMATE GROUPS URGE DENIAL OF ESCONDIDO HOUSING PROJECT

November 12 – SDUT – J. Harry Jones reports – Nearly two dozen environmental, conservation, climate and community organizations jointly sent a letter to the Escondido City Council on Tuesday urging denial of the proposed Harvest Hills development.

The council next year will decide whether 550 luxury homes can be built in the hills and mountains north of the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park in the San Pasqual Valley. The city would need to annex the land into the municipality’s boundaries as part of the approval.

The project, proposed by Concordia Homes and in the planning process for the past six years, was formerly known as Safari Highlands Ranch before being re-branded recently as Harvest Hills.

Signed by representatives of 23 organizations, the letter urges the council to make land-use decisions “that will move the city in the direction of sensible planning, production of housing that is needed, investment in the urban core, promotion of infill, traffic reduction, and to move away from inappropriately located development, such as Harvest Hills.”

Meanwhile, in reaction to the letter, Concordia’s Managing Partner Don Underwood issued a blistering rebuttal saying most of the groups that signed it “have not met with or discussed Harvest Hills with our team and, as a partial result, contains significant inaccuracies about the proposed community.”

The letter from the opposition groups contend constructing hundreds of high-end, expensive homes does nothing to help meet the region’s affordable housing goals and will worsen traffic, climate impacts and will destroy sensitive wildlife habitat. It also notes the project would be located in a high wildfire risk area and would make it more difficult to evacuate residents in the entire area should a fire blow through, as it did in 2007.

Signers of the letter include representatives of the Sierra Club, the Endangered Habitats League, two Audubon societies, the Climate Action Campaign and the North County Climate Action Alliance.

It as also signed by NeySa Ely, president of the San Pasqual Preservation Alliance, which represents many people who live just west of the proposed project site in the neighborhoods of Rancho San Pasqual and Rancho at Vistmonte.

“Safari Highlands Ranch may have a new name but it remains the embodiment of reckless urban sprawl and the antithesis of Smart Growth,” Ely said in a news release sent at the same time the letter was delivered to City Hall.

Concordia Homes first came to the council in 2014 with the concept of building the development on the 1,098-acre site (762 acres would remain open space with the homes being clustered together in several villages on the rest of the property).

Underwood, in his rebuttal, said Harvest Hills “will set the new standard for well-planned and sustainably-minded housing communities as Escondido’s first net zero energy, carbon neutral and agri-neighborhood community and will provide significant housing, road and public safety benefits for the entire community.”

He said each new home in the development will feature “extensive solar paneling on every roof, electric vehicle charging stations in every garage and battery energy storage systems in every home to create zero greenhouse gas emissions and be powered by clean, renewable energy.”

Underwood also took issue with fire risk warnings and said Harvest Hills will increase public safety for current and new residents of the San Pasqual Valley by building, equipping and funding ongoing operations of a new, three-bay fire station.

“Harvest Hills will also pay for the creation of a new emergency access road to the northwest, which provides an evacuation route out of the existing San Pasqual Valley community that currently has only ingress/egress in one direction. Furthermore, Harvest Hills will add lanes and capacity at existing intersections along the evacuation route that will accommodate the addition of Harvest Hill’s residents without negatively impacting existing evacuation times.”

Many who watch the Escondido City Council, which after years of conservative leadership now has a progressive majority, think the Harvest Hills decision may well come down to Mayor Paul McNamara with the other members of the council likely split 2-2. Recently, McNamara said he was impressed by changes Concordia has made to the project, but said he is also concerned about fire and other issues.

According to a tentative schedule released by the city’s planning department, the council will likely be asked to make a final decision sometime between March and May of next year.

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