Residents aim to block densification in the Covenant

Some local residents would like to see the Rancho Santa Fe Association take a stronger stance to stop high-density developments in the Covenant, requesting action through a petition effort.

Petitioner and Rancho Santa Fe resident Saiid Zarrabian said proposed development efforts, such as Villas of Rancho Santa Fe, threaten the 90-year-old vision that Covenant members bought into: one of low-density and large rural parcels with higher density intended only for the village center. Petitioners would like to see the Association board change its bylaws to put in a “road block” to stop any new high-density developments or any cluster housing developments which would allow more than a single dwelling on less than two acres.

“The Covenant is an incredibly unique jewel, it deserves to be preserved,” Zarrabian said. “For years we’ve been trying to convince the homeowners association to get in front of the issue by strengthening the densification rules and regulations.”

A petition with 275 signatures was presented to the Association requesting a special meeting to discuss or possibly act on a bylaw change that would require that any changes to zoning, General Plan amendments, annexation/de-annexation, or cluster housing efforts within the Covenant boundaries must receive the approval of at least two-thirds majority of all Covenant members.

The board discussed the petition at a special board meeting on Oct. 8 and did not call for a special meeting due to inconsistencies with the petition signatures.

“We reviewed the documents and of the 250-plus petitions submitted, only nine were signed by individuals in capacity as members as defined by our governing documents and California law,” said RSF Association Manager Christy Whalen. “In addition, 12 individuals who signed the petitions were not even residents of the Covenant.”

Despite the petition being denied, Zarrabian said he feels very optimistic that the board heard their concerns, “We are encouraged by their statement that they understand our issues and are planning to discuss them further.”

Over the past 15 years, there have been many development plans proposed which would significantly increase housing density on several large parcels within Rancho Santa Fe.

In 2006, an 80 casita development was proposed and denied for the 28-acre parcel on Calzada Del Bosque and Via de la Valle, now known as the Mabee property. While there has been no formal application, preliminary designs for the Rancho Librado development on the property include 55-age restricted units and four custom estate lots.

Elsewhere in the community, The Sahm Foundation’s Del Rios Ranch on Camino Del Norte and Del Dios Highway has proposed 74 home sites and Quantum Estates has submitted a proposal for Villas at Rancho Santa Fe, a proposed 35 casita homes on 40 acres on Camino Del Norte.

The Covenant modification to increase density for the Villas at Rancho Santa Fe.was denied by Covenant Design Review Committee (CDRC) and will next be reviewed by the Association board in December.

In developers’ past efforts to “get around” Association Covenant restrictions, Zarrabian said small groups of neighbors have fought the densification attempts themselves, spending thousands of dollars on legal help. One lengthy and costly lawsuit recently ended after nearly two years of litigation.

Zarrabian said those that signed the petition are looking for the Association to strengthen the bylaws to help protect the rural lifestyle of its residents so it’s not always up to the residents to do all the fighting alone, “to fight the fight on behalf of the whole Covenant.”

“What we’re asking the board to do is assume a leadership role and draw a line in the sand and let developers know that changing proper zoning and changing the General Plan won’t cut it in the Covenant,” said resident and petitioner Rick Nicholas.

Nicholas said they do not want to take any power away from existing protocols—currently a Covenant modification to increase density requires two-thirds approval from the adjacent property owners by land area as well as CDRC and Association approval.

Amending the bylaws to require a Covenant-wide vote for any high-density development would add an extra layer of protection, Nicholas said.

“If we could get a vote in place and get the bylaw changes made, that would hopefully preempt speculative developers from seeing dollar signs and prevent them from embarking on efforts in the first place,” Nicholas said. “If you had to get two-thirds of the entire Covenant to say yes to densification, that is a tougher task and much more daunting. It might prevent 80 percent of projects from percolating to the surface.”

The petitioners said while their suggestion was a bylaw change, they are open to any solution the Association comes up with that could create stronger protections. Preventing densification should be a Covenant-wide effort, Zarrabian said.

“We can’t leave the future of this amazing jewel of a neighborhood in the hands of people who don’t live here or don’t care,” Zarrabian said.

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