South Vista RV yard wins surprise approval

VISTA — The Dec. 9 City Council meeting took a dramatic turn when the controversial RV storage yard proposed for the high-profile intersection of Sycamore Avenue and Melrose Drive was narrowly approved after several hours of discussion.
The proposed 9-acre lot will house up to 400 RVs and/or trailers. Its Mediterranean design, incorporating tile roofs, stucco facades and extensive landscaping, is designed to emulate the neighboring residential communities.
It had been a long road for the project. Development was stalled in March of this year when the council changed the city code, requiring a special use permit to build outdoor storage facilities in nonoffice commercial zones. The city’s planning commission rejected 3-2 property owner and developer Arie de Jong’s application for a permit in November.
Attendees defending the project included representatives of the Vista Chamber of Commerce and the community watchdog group South Vista Communities. They maintained that the yard would help clear city streets of illegally and unattractively parked RVs. They also pointed out that the yard would only be open 13 hours a day and would produce 75 percent fewer traffic trips than a retail or hotel use.
“This is commercial land — we knew that when we bought our homes,” South Vista Communities Vice President Nicki Hobson said. “This is our one lucky chance to get a very low-impact, attractive project.”
Shadowridge residents opposing the decision outnumbered the project’s supporters. Speaker after speaker argued that the development would scare off tourists and depress nearby home values.
“I believe it will be the final nail in the coffin and bring these property values well below whatever would be the recovery value,” resident Jim Johnson said.
Some favored the siting of retail stores on the corner, suggesting that the property serve the immediate community.
“We’re going to be an island of residential in all the surrounding commercial developments,” resident Cory Norris said. “I would like to have my son ride his bike to a store, not pass more industrial and more commercial.”
The applicant indicated that he had considered siting a supermarket or a hotel at the corner, but the city’s Traffic Impact Fees were too high to make those ventures profitable.
As the council began its deliberations, it was clear both sides had a fight on their hands. Council members Judy Ritter and Steve Gronke gave lukewarm support to the project. Both Mayor Morris Vance and Councilman Robert Campbell opposed the project.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate use for that place … the gateway to our community,” Vance said. “I think it’s the wrong project in the wrong place,” Campbell echoed.
The council placed a number of conditions on approval, including replacing the landscaping pines with less-flammable trees and doubling their number where they would adjoin residences.
The sticking point was the condition that the special use permit for the yard be reduced from 30 years to 15 in the hopes that, in time, a more suitable use for the property might be found. Councilman Frank Lopez found this too restrictive, saying he believed that 20 years was a more appropriate time frame. He voted against the application, sending it to a 3-2 defeat.
The Shadowridge residents broke out into loud cheers. Their enthusiasm quickly evaporated, however. Though the council had voted on the issue, the public hearing had not been closed, and after conferring with the city attorney, Lopez requested the matter be revisited so that he could change his vote. With his reversal, the RV yard was approved, 3-2. Then it was the applicant party’s turn to smile.
Vance apologized to the audience for the incident. Gronke joked that after the evening’s vote, he wasn’t sure he was so happy to be re-elected.

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