San Marcos Highlands project taken off table

SAN MARCOS – When city council was to meet Wednesday, they may have expected to hear a recommendation from the planning commission on the proposed housing development project known as San Marcos Highlands.

But late last week, the city’s planning department issued a brief release saying that the hearing wouldn’t take place as the project’s landowner Farouk Kubba and his consulting firm had decided to postpone the project.

This comes as the San Diego chapter of LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) sent a letter to Norm Pederson, the city’s associate planner, last year on Dec. 11.

The letter raised primary issues that included the environmental reviews and the use of an “extremely old and outdated document for the project,” according to Mike Ott, executive officer with LAFCO.

“We were really critical of that because we thought it was very confusing to follow. We couldn’t even find some of the referenced documents from about 25 years ago that were the basis of the conclusions,” he said.

In the letter, LAFCO also asked for more information on the project’s infrastructure, primarily sewer treatment capacity and water supply.

“LAFCO has certain responsibilities under its charter, its state law, having to do with infrastructure and water availability and so forth, that weren’t necessarily in existence 25 years ago,” Ott said. “Those are all changes, circumstances, conditions that need to be addressed properly,” he added.

The Highlands a 189-home development project on 293-acres north of Santa Fe Hills, has been a source of concern for residents in San Marcos. At a planning commission meeting on Dec. 16, residents called into question the scope of the project’s size and compatibility with the landscape.

Ott explained that LAFCO, under the CEQA Act, is a responsible agency, but wouldn’t be the lead agency that would prepare any new environmental document. “But we’re responsible in terms of using the document that San Marcos prepares for the jurisdictional changes, the primary line of annexation to the city, so it’s critical, if the city of San Marcos wants LAFCO as a responsible and a regulatory agency to be able to use their document, that the document satisfy not only their concerns and areas of interest, but ours.”

The city is obligated under the law to involve LAFCO in decisions over any sphere of influence changes and jurisdictional changes, Ott explained.

With LAFCO requesting a new EIR for the area, any decision regarding the addressing of the issues will be up to the city.

The original EIR was certified in 1990 and was updated in 2002 and again in 2005. The planning department has said that a new EIR wasn’t necessary because the updated studies didn’t have a lot of significant changes from the original.

“From now, we don’t know where the direction is going to go,” said Jerry Backoff, a planning director with the city. “The city can follow through on those discussions and figure out where we can go.”

There is no timetable for when the project could or might come back.

“At this point in time it’s (the project) tabled,” Backoff said.

The city would have to re-advertise the project’s hearing when it comes back, he added.

Ott explained that their comments are directed to the city, rather than the developer.

“Obviously with any project there are responsibilities of municipalities and property owners but again, we’re talking about the land use authority, the land use jurisdiction’s environmental document and what they need to do to remedy their document in order to make it satisfactory for use by LAFCO,” he said.

Jim Simmons, who is serving as consultant to Kubba, didn’t return a call for comment.

 

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