OLIVENHAIN — A group of citizens have founded an unincorporated association, “Save Desert Rose,” to oppose a planned development that it says is uncharacteristic of the rural surroundings, environmentally unsustainable and presents a host of other concerns.
“Aside from the fact that the proposed development is absolutely not in keeping with the character of Olivenhain, it presents a multitude of undesirable side effects,” said Bill Butler who lives near the planned 16-home community. “Not the least of which include safety, increased traffic on narrow streets, erosion and water quality.”
The history of the residential development within the city’s most rural community is complex. Located at the end of a series of narrow, winding roads, the 6-acre parcel on Desert Rose Way was sold a few years ago to AJ Pacific Homes.
“When this development was originally presented to the community, it was done so as an 8-unit community that had lot sizes and setbacks that are consistent with the local zoning requirements,” Butler said. “However, the situation with the real estate market and the economy in general, the concept and plan became fiscally unsound.
“No longer could the builder contemplate building eight very large and expensive homes that would not be marketable in these economic times,” Butler said.
Calls to the developer were not returned.
Scott Vurbuff, the city’s environmental coordinator, said the mitigated negative declaration was published Dec. 6, 2010. The staff has since requested the applicant hire a third party to conduct a peer review of the fire protection plan of the project. The original project plan was submitted in 2007.
Based on the plans presented by applicant, staff determines if the project is exempt from environmental review or if it requires an environmental initial study. As a result of those findings, either a negative declaration, mitigated negative declaration or full environmental impact study is required, Vurbuff explained.
“In this project we noticed there was reason to mitigate potential significant impacts (to the area),” he said.
The mitigation measures speak to reducing corresponding significant impacts. Biological resources, such as habitat and the nearby wetlands, were cited as in danger of being impacted by the project, Vurbuff said.
“The new plan includes homes that are set back only five feet from the property lines, double the number of homes, an 8-foot, non-flammable perimeter wall, unstable soils, inadequate buffers for the wetlands and a number of safety concerns,” Butler said. “Unfortunately, it is we, the residents of the neighborhood, who will have to pay the price for their (developers) bad business decision.”
Attorney Everett Delano was hired by the Save Desert Rose group in January 2011. The negative declaration prepared by city planning department was both incomplete and incorrect in that it “downplayed the impacts of the project,” according to Delano. Both the scope of the project was mischaracterized and the character of the existing community he said.
“There’s some pretty significant issues in this development,” Delano said. “It’s my view that they should do more.”
The group is seeking a full environmental impact report rather than a mitigated negative declaration review.
Maximizing the buildable space on the site is crucial for a developer Delano said.
“The standard is a 50-foot buffer between a development and a wetland,” he said. However, the developer’s plan calls for a 25-foot buffer. “The number of feet is significant because the density bonus calculation allows for more homes based on the buildable space.”
“We place a premium on a community that is defined by its rural character and is free of some of the symbols of urbanization like sidewalks, street lamps, traffic lights and wide open spaces,” Butler said. “A community where trails are the links between neighbors; trails that are shared by walkers, people on horseback, bicyclists, joggers, gentle athletes, our four-legged friends and children walking to school.”