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San Marcos OKs residential project

An 89-home subdivision in the northwest corner of San Marcos received the blessing of the San Marcos City Council, but it was not unanimous.

The Council voted 4-1 on April 24 to approve the project known as Murai, which will be built on 91.6 acres just west of the northern terminus of Las Posas Road adjacent to Santa Fe Hills. Councilman Chris Orlando voted against the proposal.

Proponents of the project said the new homes are badly needed to help address the regional housing shortfall. Opponents argued that the development as proposed would further constrict one of the last large coastal sage scrub habitats, which would restrict the movement of wildlife.

Several state wildlife agencies appeared to echo some of the concerns about the wildlife corridor, disputing the findings of the developer over the impacts to the corridor. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife Services wrote a letter to the city disputing the environmental report’s characterization of the project as a “stepping stone” for wildlife movement, rather than a key habitat corridor. The agency recommended the city approve an alternative provided in the report that would call for only 68 homes to be built, rather than 89.

A group of biologists, spearheaded by Palomar College biology professor Lesley Blankenship-Williams, urged the city to reject the current project iteration until the Department of Fish and Wildlife Services, city, developer and community were “all on the same page.”

Other speakers expressed concern about the impact the project would have on traffic conditions and on local schools, questioning the number of students the developer estimates the project will generate.

Mayor Jim Desmond said he believed that even if the council approved the entitlements and environmental report, the project would not proceed without the permits from the environmental agencies.

“They still have to get permits,” Desmond said. “If they can’t, they will be back before us with changes to the project or no project. The burden is still on the applicant to get that resolved.”

Nearly a dozen speakers addressed the council at the April 24 meeting, split on whether to approve the project or the smaller project. Several speakers said the new homes would allow home buyers to upgrade their homes, which would open up condos for first-time home buyers.