The Coast News Group

Lilac Hils Ranch on Nov. 8 ballot

REGION — Voters will have the final say on a proposed 1,700-home master planned community near Valley Center, as the County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place the item on the Nov. 8 ballot.

But at least two supervisors raised concerns about the project after they received a 45-page analysis from county staff that pointed out several significant differences between the initiative and the project the county had considered. At least one supervisor declared their outright opposition to it.

The supervisors voted 4-0 to place the citizens initiative for Lilac Hills Ranch on the November ballot. Supervisor Bill Horn recused himself after the Fair Political Practices Commission advised him that he had a conflict of interest due to the proximity of his property to the project.

While county counsel advised the board to not actively campaign against or for the project, the supervisors each had an opportunity to make remarks before voting on the initiative.

It was Supervisor Dianne Jacob who provided the strongest rebuke of the project, which she said doesn’t pass muster. She said she had “grave concerns” about the precedent the project would set for ballot-box planning and for sprawl in the county’s unincorporated areas.

“The question we need to ask is does the need for housing…outweigh the differences between the initiative and the planning commission recommendations and the general plan, and I say no,” Jacob said.

Supervisor Dave Roberts also expressed concerns with the initiative, but said it was now up to the voters to decide.

“While I do have concerns, it is not my intention to interfere with applicant’s right to pursue a public vote,” Roberts said.

Lilac Hills Ranch, which is proposed by Del Mar-based Accretive — the same company that developed San Elijo Hills in San Marcos — would build 1,746 homes, retail and other buildings on 600 acres in the largely rural area adjacent to Valley Center and south of Fallbrook. Accretive has spent $3 million in planning fees to guide the project through the development process, which has gone on for more than a decade.

The county’s general plan calls for 110 homes to be built in that area.

By putting the question to voters, the project would sidestep the county’s normal approval process and likely insulate itself from opposition environmental lawsuits.

Supervisors initially considered the initiative July 19, where they were given three options after the county had certified that the developer had gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. They could vote to put it on the ballot, approve the initiative outright, or order the county to provide an impartial impact report.

Supervisors chose to third option, and staff returned Aug. 2 with the report, which enumerated several key differences between the project iterations and the general plan.

There were several key contrasts:

• The planning commission’s recommended project would have required the developer to build a turnkey K-8 school for its residents. While the developer and the Bonsall Union School District have an agreement in place to build a school, the actual initiative would not bind the two parties to that agreement.

• The initiative proposes that fire response times would be seven to nine minutes, which is longer than the five-minute time the county requires for similar projects. The developer and several fire consultants argued that the project is still fire safe and that its plan has been used as a model by other developers, and that the Deer Springs Fire Protection District, which would provide fire services to the project, has deemed the response time acceptable.

• Several public and private road improvements that the planning commission recommended would not be required in the initiative.

Accretive representatives protested several of the conclusions reached by staff in the report and demanded corrections, but county staff stood by the report.

Opponents of the project lauded the report, which they said was an accurate reflection of the issues surrounding the initiative.

For a second consecutive meeting, however, supporters of the project far outweigh opponents during the public comment section of the meeting. Project supporters, which ranged from young children, young adults seniors and developers, urged the board to pass the initiative rather than send it to voters.

Supporters have argued that the project is an example of smart growth, and it would help the county ease a growing housing crunch while also preserving open space, developing parks and shopping that will keep motorists from driving long trips for amenities. They have called it “San Elijo Hills on steroids.”

But opponents have argued that the project doesn’t meet the county’s general plan standards, doesn’t have an adequate fire protection plan and doesn’t adequately address the increase in traffic to the area — it is estimated that the project will generate nearly 15 times the traffic that nearby Valley Center sees daily.