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North River Farms Ecology Center
A rendering of what the ecology center in North River Farms could look like. Courtesy photo
Cities Community News Oceanside Oceanside Featured

North River Farms owner files lawsuit against project’s challengers

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been revised from its original version to include more information and quotes from Arleen Hammerschmidt.

OCEANSIDE — The developers of a controversial housing project have filed a lawsuit challenging a citizen-led referendum that would potentially prevent the project from going forward.

For several years, Integral Communities has been seeking to produce a housing development called North River Farms in the South Morro Hills area of town.

The Oceanside City Council narrowly approved the development’s final plan in November 2019, which also included a General Plan update that would allow the development on 214.5 acres of land in an area of the city mostly dominated by commercial farms.

A significant amount of residents are opposed to the project, citing concerns regarding traffic congestion, fire hazards and urban sprawl. Nearly 100 individuals voiced their opposition to the project during the Council meeting when the project was approved.

Integral Communities made a number of changes to address some of those concerns. Though its original plans called for nearly 1,000 homes, the developers had taken that number down to 585 homes, with additional space for parks, retail, restaurant, and potentially a 100-room hotel.

The developer also offered to give Oceanside $1 million for preparing a community plan for South Morro Hills, an acre of land to install a permanent fire station within the project site as well as a police field office, preserving 37.5 acres of land known as the Bree Property, proposing a restaurant or brewery instead of a hotel, adding a 1-acre dog park that is open to the public, upsizing the sewer within North River Road, adding trails and providing the city $500,00 for future improvements to the Melba Bishop Recreation Center.

Additionally, developers would construct a second northbound right-turn lane on North River Road at Vandegrift, widen the College Boulevard bridge, pay the city $100,000 to fund Climate Action measures, install new traffic signals at the intersections of North River Road and Leon Street and Douglas Drive and Madra Lane, and construct a recycled water main.

Still, that wasn’t enough for many Oceanside residents. In December 2019, residents collected thousands of signatures from residents to place a referendum challenging the project on the November 2020 ballot.

South Morro Hills
A sign for South Morro Hills agricultural region at the corner of Wilshire Road and North River Road in Oceanside. File photo

Integral Communities previously filed a lawsuit in January against proponents of the referendum claiming forgery of signatures and misrepresentation of the development in the petition. In the prior lawsuit, the developer named residents Arleen Hammerschmidt and Kathryn Carbone as the proponents of the referendum.

Though a decision has yet to be made on the previous lawsuit, the referendum was approved for the November election.

In this current lawsuit, filed in July, both Carbone and Hammerschmidt are once again named along with the City of Oceanside, City Clerk Zeb Navarro, and San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu.

Hammerschmidt, and former Oceanside teacher, would not comment on the lawsuits, but did say she is “seething about the attempts to defile my family name.”

“I just hope all of my former students, athletes, their families and guardians and all of my colleagues at the (Oceanside Unified) district will continue to maintain their trust in my relationship with them,” Hammerschmidt said. “The name Hammerschmidt is known for trustworthiness, honesty, and doing the right thing from all of Southern California to the Bay Area, which is part of the reason I’m so incensed about this.”

Called “Measure L,” the ballot measure will ask voters if an ordinance that rezones approximately 176.6 acres in northeastern Oceanside to implement the North River Farms project should be adopted.

The current zoning is agricultural with a potential for allowing 2.5-acre minimum residential lots. When City Council approved the project in November, they also approved a change to the zoning to accommodate the project.

“The referendum only cherry-picks the zoning,” said Mark Dillon, an attorney representing Integral Communities in the lawsuit. “We have an approved General Plan that allows housing and an approved map that allows houses to be built, but we have an attempt by the referendum to restrict housing on the site even though the city approved it after four years of public planning and environmental review.”

The lawsuit challenging the referendum was filed under Senate Bill 330, a new state law that intends to address the state’s housing shortage and affordability crisis by boosting supply and expediting housing production.

The bill is designed to speed up housing construction for the next five years by reducing the time it takes to obtain building permits, limiting fee increases on housing applications and preventing local governments from reducing the number of homes that can be built.

The lawsuit argues that the referendum is in violation of SB 330.

“This anti-housing, anti-growth referendum seeks to undo the zoning that matches the General Plan that allows housing on the property,” Dillon said.

Each city is required to update their general plans, housing elements and zoning codes to accommodate the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) Plan, which allocated housing to jurisdictions based on the availability of transit and jobs. The plan also seeks to allocate more housing units for low and very low-income residents and prioritizes placing those units in areas with better schools, more economic opportunity and fewer environmental hazards.

The 6th Cycle RHNA Allocation determined that Oceanside needs a total of 5,443 housing units built. Of that amount, 1,268 need to accommodate very low-income households, 718 units for low income, 883 for moderate and 2,574 for above moderate.

According to Ninia Hammond, project manager for North River Farms, Oceanside is at 29% of that required amount so far.

North River Farms
An artist’s rendering of the proposed North River Farms. Photo courtesy of Integral Communities

“That leaves roughly 4,300 homes to build,” Hammond said.

Hammond said North River Farms would start selling its homes around $530,000, which is “well below the county of San Diego’s median home price but also Oceanside’s home price.”

According to Zillow.com, the average home value in Oceanside is $568,595. The county’s average value is $628,519.

Hammond noted that some of the project’s larger homes would include accessory dwelling units that could be considered accommodating to low or very low-income households. Additionally, the project has committed to building 60 affordable, subsidized housing units either with the rest of the project or even closer to public transit.

In addition to its 585 homes, trail network and 24.9-acre commercial village, the project will also include 68 acres of agriculture space, where residents can farm their own crops and will be managed by a hired professional farmer, and 17 acres of open space and parks. Hammond noted there would also be an ecology center where residents can volunteer and learn about farming.

Lance Waite, one of four principals at Integral Communities, said that courts throughout the state have had to get involved with cities resisting additional housing.

“We’re seeing difficulty in trying to produce housing because of multiple opinions weighing in on that process,” Waite said. “I think sometimes people need to step in and say, hey, there are different opinions on how housing should be built but we have to do something in California — we can’t wait any longer.”

Waite said many of those opposed to the project area homeowners who aren’t challenged by housing needs or face high housing prices.

“The people who are leading the opposition are homeowners, and that has made them generally wealthy,” Waite said. “Their housing values now far outweigh what they paid for them.”

Many of them also don’t live near the project, he added.

According to Dillon, the attorney, California is losing many of its younger residents to other states because they can’t afford to live here.

“If we keep doing this, we’re not going to have any housing that’s going to be affordable to working families,” Dillon said. “Nurses, firemen — where are these people going to live if we keep saying no and pulling up the drawbridge and not letting anybody else get that American dream?”

While Hammerschmidt would not respond to any of the comments from Integral Communities officials or the attorney, she posed a question for residents to consider.

“How do we know who to believe? Remember, what sounds too good to be true probably is,” she said. “Trust in those who earned your trust over decades.”

11 comments

Tony.Martinez August 23, 2020 at 8:22 am

To Carson Dyle:

Per your comment “But the people against the project are liars, too. They aren’t farmers. They’re NIMBY’s who live in the hills. ”

You stop lying. I live less than 2 blocks right behind the 7-11 and Popeyes in a modest home. We live closer to the project than anyone up in Morro Hills. My wife circulated one of those petitions to stop NRF because this project is going to make the traffic impossible. All the city planners wrote that in their official reports and nothing that developer was willing to do would change that.

Carson Dyle August 17, 2020 at 3:56 pm

The developers won’t deliver all they promise. They’re salesmen. They never do. But the people against the project are liars, too. They aren’t farmers. They’re NIMBY’s who live in the hills. The real farmers want the project. Why? Because farming is dead in Oceanside. The San Luis aquifer is going salty and city water rates are through the roof. The farmers need a way out. So, here’s the truth. Either this land will be developed or it will go fallow. Take your pick. And here’s another truth. So far, this project has been cut about 40%. Then, they threw in a fire station, a police station, a million for the local rec center, 30-some acres of open space and a bunch of other stuff to buy some more votes. But here’s what you need to ask yourself. Where does the money come from for all this stuff? Where does the money for the lawsuits come from? Who pays for it? The answer is, you do. We all do. It gets added into the price of the houses. That’s why there’s nothing you can afford around here. Because all the nice white people like me wind up getting bought off. What a joke!

Christine Brumbach August 14, 2020 at 8:53 pm

Oceanside does not need more millionaires. California’s young people are leaving because they are more likely to be renters. Not homeowners. Skilled laborers are not the only ones who make up working families. Your local grocery store cashier, the janitor, your postmates deliver driver. Are they gonna be able to live in these ‘affordable’ homes? I presume not.

Jason Melendez August 14, 2020 at 9:14 am

This whole article reads like a sales brochure straight from the developer. I notice the developer’s pretty pictures don’t include any houses. What a joke!

Kathryn Carbone August 13, 2020 at 3:31 pm

How does one “logically rebut” a despicable, dishonest, self serving billionaire and his SLAPP happy attorneys? When they go low, we go high. Read what Arleen said: “If it sounds to good to be true it probably is.” That’s good time proven REALLY GOOD advice. No one on our side is “confusing voters” but rather we are bringing the light of truth to the matter. Proud to be fighting this horrifying development along side the best people in my community and surrounding area.

Nadine Scott August 13, 2020 at 11:46 am

The developer’s rep and the lawsuit fail to mention one thing: SB330 Has a stated statewide policy to preserve agricultural land and directs cities and developers to infill properties for housing. Misrepresentation at best, lying at worst to leave that out!

Dmitriy August 13, 2020 at 9:18 am

Hammerschmidt’s last comment provoking paranoia is not meant to be a logical rebuttal, but rather a tactic to confuse voters. That was exactly the same tactic used by SOAR people when they lied about developers taking away our parks without us voting.

eric s anderson August 13, 2020 at 2:02 am

It isn’t counter-intuitive to think this this ins’t anything more than a future For Rent sign in the window of a vacant unit at a half occupied strip mall. Another 7-11 with oil spots and cat litter at the pumps. These people want to come to Oceanside, build stuff, make money and get mad if the residents don’t want it. They’re practicing bad hypnosis, even the suggestion stinks. Framed as doing us, the people that live in Oceanside, a favor. From Route 76 at Canyon Drive you’ll see the Walmart one day. Is Libby Lake and Mesa Margarita so great we need another one? Nothing they can present is better than leaving it alone. The people that are building this don’t live here. They don’t have to look at it.

D Garcia August 12, 2020 at 5:43 pm

Nonsense. Integral is under no obligation to offer any of those homes for the prices they’re saying. This is a well known lie they’ve used elsewhere time and again. They go into a community saying they’ll offer homes at a certain price point but when the houses actually go up for sale SUPRISE! they’re 20, 30, 40 percent or more expensive than what they originally said they’d be sold for. Is it any wonder why Integral flat out refused to enter into any legally enforceable agreement with the city to deliver on their promises.

Krista August 14, 2020 at 2:56 pm

Who owns the land? Do farmers still own it? It sounds to me like Integral has made many concessions. Do we want to end up like the SF Bay Area where people have to commute 2 hours each way? This project is in a prime commuting location. And in case no one noticed, Scripps Ranch and Poway were built in fire zones and increased traffic. Living in SoCal means heavy traffic and fire risk. It’s too late to pretend we do not already have that. So stop all the NIMBY activity-it’s white people who are home owners who are fighting North River Farms.

Tony.Martinez August 23, 2020 at 8:35 am

“-it’s white people who are home owners who are fighting North River Farms.”

And the rich land owners are white and the rich developers are all white and they want to trash our neighborhood.
Just keep telling yourself your racist lie. We live in the community. We oppose NRF and surprise…we aren’t white!!!

Our community will not be bought out by a bunch of rich outside developers!!!!

Comments are closed.