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EIR for Highlands development expected at year’s end

SAN MARCOS — A comprehensive study on the environmental impacts of a controversial residential development in North San Marcos is expected to be released by year’s end, city officials and representatives of the project developer said Wednesday night.

City staff and the developer of the San Marcos Highlands project, a proposed 189-home development on 262 acres northwest of Palomar College, held a public workshop to get more feedback from residents about the project’s current iteration, which is scaled down significantly from previous versions.

“We’re looking for the report to hit the streets soon,” Jim Simmons, a principal with the San Marcos-based developer, Consultants Collaborative, said to the audience. “We have looked at the impacts and listened to your concerns and we believe you will be satisfied with how the new report addresses the impacts to your community.”

The city is in the process of completing an environmental impact report for the project, nearly a year after city staff and the developer indefinitely shelved the project due to a request for a more updated and thorough environmental study. Staff was originally relying on a mitigated negative declaration, which is a more cursory environmental document that had been last updated in the mid-2000s.

City officials previously said that a request by the regional agency that handles annexation requests — which the project requires — for a new environmental report prompted the delay.

The Local Agency Formation Commission is involved with the project because it requires the annexation of about 121 acres from the county into the city limits.

Simmons and his representatives said they have addressed the community’s previous concerns about the project by decreasing the number of homes, increasing the amount of park space and the size of a habitat linkage and updating the environmental studies, including those that study noise, air quality and impacts to local wildlife.

About 20 people, many who live in the adjacent Santa Fe Hills community or in unincorporated county land north of the project along Buena Creek Road, attended the event. Many of the neighbors have been opposed to or skeptical of the project largely due to a feature of the project that would extend Las Posas Road in San Marcos nearly to Buena Creek.

While the project does not call for the road connection to be completed, neighbors see the development as simply a step toward the inevitable completion of that link, which will exacerbate traffic along Buena Creek and Twin Oaks Valley Road. Twin Oaks Valley Road, which turns into Deer Springs Road, already becomes bogged down with traffic during rush hour as commuters use it to avoid traffic along the eastbound state Route78 on their way to Interstate 15.

“The project itself is going to create the demand for the extension,” said Mary Borevitz, who lives in the area north of Buena Creek Road. “If I lived in that community, I would look at the fact that there was only one way and out of the community, and that would be dangerous, I would demand that road be finished. So I just see this as paving the way for the extension.”

Borevitz and other neighbors said while they appreciate the efforts of the developer to address some of those concerns, ultimately, they will remain opposed to it because of the specter of that road’s completion, among other things, including the potential of homes being built on the hills in the project area.

While the land currently in the city is bound by the city’s voter-approved ridgeline protection ordinance, the soon-to-be-annexed property was not part of that ordinance, and would require another public vote to be added to the protection.

“When they talk about people being opposed to anything being built there, they are referring to me,” Borevitz said. “That land is a beautiful piece of open space, and we want that land to be bought by a conservancy.

“We have seen San Marcos grow from a little sleepy town into a bustling suburbia, and if we don’t do anything, there will not be any of these open spaces left for us and our future generations,” Borevitz said.