Monday, August 11, 2014

Do we have Urban Sprawl in North San Diego County or not?

Proposed Development at the northeast corner of I-15 and SR-76
Graphic: Rick Engineering Company / PardeeHomes
Note: Exhibit Only. Do not use for land use planning.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


This last weekend, I was tipped off by a concerned citizen who lives in the vast rural area that spans between Temecula and Escondido over potential urban sprawl proposed for the area. Searching around for proposed developments in this vicinity, I came across two major development master plans proposed: Meadowood and Lilac Hills Ranch.

The Meadowood plan which already has some of its connector roads built is located on undeveloped land at the base of a hillside at the northeast corner of the I-15 and Highway 76 interchange. It would include a total of 844 new homes, areas for professional office, commercial retail, a school site and a satellite campus for Palomar Community College. The junction itself as well as the Old Highway 395 corridor in the area can be considered the central activity hub for the Pala Mesa area, a small "suburb" within the town of Fallbrook. According to the investor, plans call for open space corridors and park space. The project is very similar in scope to the Dos Lagos area in Corona except that the main destination for the area would be a community college campus instead of a regional shopping center. I would say that students living in the Southwest Riverside County region would benefit with another college campus option. The San Diego County General Plan has this area zoned as a village which is defined as this:

The Village category identifies areas where a higher intensity and a wide range of land uses are established or have been planned. Typically, Village areas function as the center of community planning areas and contain the highest population and development densities. Village areas are typically served by both water and wastewater systems. Ideally, a Village would reflect a development pattern that is characterized as compact, higher density development that is located within walking distance of commercial services, employment centers, civic uses, and transit (when feasible).

Proposed Development at the southeast corner of I-15 and the Lilac Road Overpass.
Graphic: Lilac Hills Ranch
Note: Exhibit Only. Do not use for land use planning.
The Lilac Hills Ranch master plan, located a few miles south of Meadowood is a proposal that calls for the development of more than 1,700 homes over 608 acres. This project master plan has mustered massive public opposition--and for good reason.

The project is proposed just east of the iconic Lilac Road I-15 freeway overpass near the crest of a hill which separates the Valley Center, Bonsall and Pala Mesa regions. Although it is too located adjacent to the I-15 freeway, it is far from any existing town center or major junction. In fact, the project isn't even on land zoned for higher density or tract housing development. The area is currently zoned for rural/ranch development according to the San Diego County General Plan. The plan defines "Semi-Rural" development as this:

The Semi-Rural category identifies areas of the County that are appropriate for lower-density residential neighborhoods, recreation areas, agricultural operations, and related commercial uses that support rural communities. Semi-Rural areas often function as a transition between the Village and Rural Lands categories, providing opportunities for development, but without the intensity and level of public services expected in Villages and with design approaches that blend the development with the natural landscape. Semi-Rural residential densities are derived in consideration of the physical conditions, community character, and availability of public services, roads, and other infrastructure. Higher densities within the allowable range should be located near Village areas, while lower densities should be located near Rural Land areas. Site design methods that reduce on-site infrastructure costs and preserve contiguous open space or agricultural operations are encouraged.

Current Land Use Plans in the affected area.
Graphic: County of San Diego
The Lilac Hills Ranch master plan certainly does not fit into the category of "Semi-Rural" development. As proposed, it fits into the "Village" category. Therefore, we have a very legit location problem per the land use plan. This isn't NIMBY opposition here.

Any amendments to the General Plan or its land use policies certainly should have local support. But the debate and opposition for the Lilac Hills Ranch plan is intense. The investor behind this proposal should take this plan and relocate it to an area designated for such mixed-use development. To be fair, I've taken a look at some of the graphics and media published by the Lilac Hills investor and the designs are beautiful. San Diego County is also in need of a better housing supply, but there are other better-suited locations all over the county for Lilac Hills Ranch to thrive and address the housing problem, not at the current location. County officials should work with these investors and local residents to solve this problem. Plus, there are plenty of opportunities for an investor to improve and capitalize on the land without disrupting the semi-rural nature of the region.

Because the Lilac Hills Ranch project would need a General Plan amendment that would convert land designated for "Semi-Rural" to "Village", County officials should first muster support of local area residents from Bonsall, Pala Mesa, and Valley Center before voting for such changes. That would be the fair thing to do. But based on the local response, that is not happening. And San Diego County elected officials must not ignore or stonewall their people's position of this change during public hearings. Development investor pandering must not be allowed to dictate land use policies. That's not what our democratic republic is about. Otherwise, we have a serious case of urban sprawl which must be opposed.

I-15 Infrastructure and the Meadowood Master Plan

In addition, we're calling for San Diego County officials to ensure longer-range infrastructure upgrades are expedited and funded through the Meadowood master plan. If this plan moves forward and puts a strain on infrastructure, that too would be sprawl and development should be postponed until the public works improvement projects can be completed first. College campuses draw much activity and we don't need the I-15 in north San Diego County turning into the 91 due to over-development and lack of infrastructure.

Longer-Range: I-15 HOT Lanes through the affected regions
Here are some more facts: The I-15 between Temecula and Escondido is a major commuter corridor which is nearing capacity. The freeway has already begun to show signs of slowing during the afternoon commute at East Mission Road. The northbound onramp from central Fallbrook puts more cars onto the freeway than it can currently handle, thus creating a minor bottleneck. Adding to the chokepoint is an issue of slow trucks making the climb up the hill. San Diego County officials have included the addition of high occupancy toll lanes for the corridor in long-range regional transportation plans, but the project is not slated for completion until 2050 since funding has not been identified.

Let's Debate: Should the Meadowood developers expedite the I-15 HOT lane and rapid express BRT projects through the affected area?
Let's Debate: Should the developers fund and expedite the I-15 HOT lane project?

Here would be an ideal solution I submit into the debate to ensure developments along the I-15 corridor do not strain the transportation system once they are completely built out. San Diego County officials should take this under consideration.

Developers that build within the Meadowood master plan would need to pay into the HOT lane segment project linking SR-76 to Temecula Parkway in Riverside County through the Transportation Impact Fee program. The developers would design and build the local roads and other public works capital themselves with efficient county government oversight. Another option would be for local and state officials to give the developer the option to design and construct the HOT lanes themselves in the I-15 right-of-way in return for a rebate on TIF fees or other taxes with efficient oversight from Caltrans. Either way, the HOT lanes and bus transit infrastructure would need to be expedited. We do not need to wait until the college students hit retirement in 2050 before the lanes materialize.

The four new toll lanes should be an extension of the I-15 Express Lanes with the same usage policy and transit infrastructure--carpoools 2 or more free. In addition, the developers should pay for or take care of the design and construction of a freeway interchange at Steward Canyon so that not all of Meadowood's freeway traffic is routed to the SR-76 interchange. Also the the plans should call for a HOT lane direct access ramp at the Pala Mesa Drive overpass and additional bus transit amenities at the Pala Mesa Park & Ride. That would allow future transit buses and carpools seamless connections to the college, the rest of Meadowood and the SR-76 corridor.

Stopping North San Diego County Urban Sprawl

The bottom line is that San Diego County officials should not allow these master plans to go unchecked. If developer pandering leads to worsened traffic along the I-15 through this region because nothing was done to improve the infrastructure with the massive developments, existing residents and the voting public will not be happy about it, especially if county General Plan amendments are involved without local support. And we've all seen what happens when voters unite, expose development investor pandering, and hold their elected representatives accountable at the voting booth. Moreno Valley, San Jacinto and Murrieta all have histories of individual pandering politicians being recalled and booted from office simply because they did not reflect the people's values.

No to urban sprawl.

2 comments:

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    1. Whatever the final plan is, it needs to include better biking accommodations. Painting a 'BIK LAN' in the gutter of a 6-lane arterial isn't acceptable. Warrants should be adopted that identify when mixing traffic is no longer advisable (i.e. pce > 5000, 2+ lanes/direction). Also important is that biking to any BRT corridors is made easy, convenient, and inviting, especially from developments that are within 3-5 miles.

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