‘Desert Rose’ residents look to head off development project

OLIVENHAIN — “Save Desert Rose,” a group of citizens that have long opposed a planned development are gearing up for another battle as the project developer is slated to go before the Planning Commission in late October. 

The group contends that the residential development is uncharacteristic of the rural surroundings, environmentally unsustainable and presents a host of other concerns.

The group has mobilized hundreds of supporters in the community as well as in Carlsbad where the impacts of increased traffic from the development will be felt.

“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 proposed by Woodbridge Farms Estates, LLC. “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,” he opined. “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 subsequently 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 the 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 5-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.”

“It’s my view that they should do more,” he added.

The group is seeking a full environmental impact report rather than a mitigated negative declaration review.

“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,” 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.”

Dr. Fred Frumin, an Olivenhain resident agreed. “This development is everything we didn’t move here for,” he said. “The community wants to preserve its character and I’m willing to help with that.”

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  1. No Go! says:

    This proposal would take one of the most beautiful corners of Encinitas and would change it forever.

    There are many mature trees that would be killed, and open spaces would be replaced by high-density, condo-like structures that do not go with other properties in this area of Encinitas.

    There are over 100 residents who strongly oppose this plan.

  2. change4encinitas says:

    Folks,

    This is only the beginning. There will be many more flash points like Desert Rose. Look for other areas in Encinitas to be affected by this type of encroachments to our quality of life. Up-zoning will become a serious issue in Encinitas. Anybody that has followed the General Plan Update is keenly aware of that!
    The only way out is to embrace the right-to-vote initiative to empower the residents. http://www.encinitasrighttovote.com.

  3. Sheila says:

    We moved to Encinitas in mid 1980s when Encinitas was called the ‘flower capital’ of California/USA. Since then, I have observed our city officials approve irresponsible development and over-building of the land that were once covered with flowers.
    Our city officials again are siding with developers to take a beautiful parcel of land in Olivenhain and turn it into a high-density housing project.
    If we don’t stand up against this plan, many more such flawed plans will turn the characteristic of our beautiful city, making it look like a Little LA.

  4. Concerned Citizen says:

    I support the neighbors; our entire City should be represented by Council Members and Commission Members who support the rights of neighborhood self-determination to the greatest extent possible.

    The law is designed to serve the people, not for the people to serve what I call loophole lawyers and pro-development politicians.

    In an area so sensitive, and with such unique rural characteristics, an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) should be required. Encinitas and other municipalities have been far too quick to hand out negative impact declarations. Precedent requires that the law should be liberally construed to include traffic, habitat and community character and heritage within a legal environmental review, required by CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), not simply shrug these concerns off as being “beneath” evaluation once minimum so-called “mitigation” has been performed.

    Precedent also shows that if a negative impact declaration is filed, then the appealants’ time to challenge is extended, with respect to appealing the negative impact declaration. In other words, the time to appeal the decision is longer than if there had been a full EIR, and the determinations of that report were challenged after being approved by the Planning Commission and Council.

    I feel the neighbors’ challenge is timely and should be well-received by the Court. I hope they can get a good judge, through Everett Delano, because some of Superior Court judges are very much pro-development, as well, in their rulings, while a few have been objective and have given well considered opinions, not playing favorites with sitting “powers that be,” including the City.

  5. Julie Graboi says:

    I oppose the project on many grounds, starting with the fact that developers went to Fish and Game and negotiated a private, oral agreement that other residents were unable to comment on. As Fish and Game has pointed out out, they are not the lead agency in this project, and they have no real authority to trade a temporary wetlands restoration project for reduced building standards. The authority to do this rests with the Planning Commission, and ultimate, Encinitas City Council.

    Citizens’ first opportunity to weigh in on this project was for a map of 16 units in a lot identified for a maximum of 7. This map showed a substandard private road, a firewall, artificial building pads on a lot with documented soil problems, reduced parking spaces, 2-car—not 3 car garages, and tiny lots that do not fit in with our community.

    All of these downgrades were allegedly granted (by an agency that points out that they are not the lead agency) in exchange for a 3-year program to clear weeds from the wetlands and to replant if with a few native plants. After 3 years, there will be no obligation to maintain this program, yet community members would be stuck with a dangerous and unfitting project, which in the long term, would prove more injurious to the wetlands than if they simply built in keeping with our current zoning. Carlsbad residents will have their natural view corridor diminished when many mature trees are replaced with views of a hardscape vista of firewalls, roofs, and driveways. The proposed yards are miniscule.

    If developers’ purpose were really to restore the wetland area that locals call Hodges Creek, there are many other houses downstream that border on this wetland. We would be willing to work with nonprofits that specialize in this type of project to this disappearing resource. Why didn’t they let us become involved, or at least weigh in on the wetlands restoration plan?

    To use an inadequate, temporary, wetlands restoration project as a means to pack on more houses is disingenuous and harmful to our community. Those of us and our children who love these wetlands were never allowed to be part of the solution because the real reason that they got an oral agreement was to develop the property as densely as possible.

  6. No LA For Encinitas says:

    I have had my home and family in Encinitas for 22 years. It really saddens me to have watched it change year by year from a low-key paradise to a place more and more like LA.

    It appears that the present City Council and the City Planning Department they run do not listen to what the citizens of Encinitas clearly want, but only to the moneyed interests – Developers and Commercializers. Now we have Walmart, ever increasing traffic, less trees, houses with impossibly tiny setbacks from the road, and what looks like a death wish for the rare character of the Encinitas most citizens would fight to preserve – if only there were greater awareness of how the wonderful character of our town is being destroyed.

    We really need more citizen awareness right now of how our town is systematically being allowed to be ruined, and being allowed to be turned into another ho-hum suburb of LA by the very people we elect to preserve and cherish our community. We need many more groups like the ‘Save Desert Rose’ group of concerned citizens, working together to save Encinitas.

  7. brian m says:

    This reminds me of the developer who presented plans for a new building near the end of the runway at Montgomery field. Then he went and built a taller building, and was offended when the city made him knock off the added height. He had assumed his connections and money would let him get his way. These developers probably brag about the risk they take as entrepreneurs, but when a downside actually occurs they want others to shoulder that burden.

  8. Ray Huggenberger says:

    “Save Desert Rose” is an initiative which has my full support. I don’t know of many other businesses that would even have the audacity to try and save their project profits by destroying the home values of the residents around the project. The Planning Commission and City Council should not only be held accountable to enforce the letter but also the spirit of the current rules and regulations concerning zoning in Olivenhain. The proposed 16-unit project is in violation of those rules. PERIOD! Why is the developer fighting the commission of an EIR? The delay in the project is only a small reason. They know that such a report is likely to bury the project in it’s current form. Although I would prefer for the property in question to stay the way it is, I do not necessarily oppose development of the property in general but it has to be done in compliance with the zoning rules for Olivenhain which call for larger min. lot sizes and substantially bigger setbacks.

  9. City for Sale says:

    This project represents a recent trend that our way of life and our valuable community character is for sale. Let’s hope that the Planning Commission and the Council do the right thing and support the right for residents to identify their own community character.

    Community character should not be determined by outsiders who wish to invade neighborhoods and vector value from local Olivenhain property owners into their own pockets.

    There are NO public benefits to this plan when current residents would be left to weather the negative impacts of this project while developers are made whole for terrible decisions and poor standards.

  10. City for Sale says:

    Anyone who tried to develop this as they are proposing, will get sued.

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