OCEANSIDE — The developer of a controversial housing project in South Morro Hills has dramatically cut the original number of homes following the settlement of two lawsuits earlier this month.
When the Oceanside City Council first approved Integral Communities’ North River Farms development in late 2019, the project proposed to build 585 homes on 214 acres of land.
Now, the number of homes has been reduced to 395 homes.
Most of the homes that would have been built south of North River Road were eliminated. Instead, the plan is to preserve even more agricultural and open space – a minimum of 150 acres. The development footprint will only take up 28 acres on the property south of North River Road.
The settlement terms were reached following years of litigation between The NRF Project Owner, owned by developer Integral Communities, and two local groups opposed to the original plan, Preserve Calavera and Let Oceanside Vote.
Following the council’s narrow approval of the project, residents put a referendum on the 2020 ballot that would give residents – not the City Council – the final approval of North River Farms. Despite the development’s attempts to stop the referendum, voters overwhelmingly denied the project.
Then in May 2021, a judge declared the referendum void under the Housing Crisis Act.
Let Oceanside Vote along with residents Arleen Hammerschmidt and Kathryn Carbone, who were also named in the lawsuit, appealed that decision. Soon after, all parties began negotiating settlement terms which include the development’s reduction in homes and addition of more preserved land.
“The settlement is hugely significant,” Hammerschmidt said.
North River Farms also reduced its planned commercial uses by 45% and cannot build any accessory dwelling units (ADUs) or junior accessory dwelling units (JADUs). The developer must also mitigate 100% of its greenhouse gas emissions, establishing a greenhouse gas emission bank that will help direct funds back to the community.
“We are proud that the agreement helps address climate change in a meaningful way,” said Diane Nygaard of Preserve Calavera.
According to the settlement terms, the project’s affordable housing element must be built within half a mile from a smart growth corridor.
The developer still plans to build a fire station as originally planned but only moved slightly in recent plans to help preserve additional land. The developer will also provide up to $200,000 in additional wildfire mitigations and safety enhancements in the area.
Although opponents would have preferred no development, Nygaard said this settlement’s agreements are unprecedented.
“Overall we’re very pleased with how much of a better fit the project is,” Nygaard said. “We fought very hard to get the very best agreement that we could.”
North River Farms will also pay $20,000 to the Women’s Resource Center in Oceanside as well as $15,000 each to Hammerschmidt and Patricia Hughes, who was also named in the lawsuit. The developer must also pay the petitioners more than $723,000 in attorney fees.