The Harmony Grove Village South development is expected to come before the San Diego County Board of Supervisors for final review this month with a tentative hearing date on Wednesday, July 25.
The San Dieguito Planning Group has recommended denial of the development, which includes 453 single family and multi-family residential units, more homes than what the county’s General Plan currently allows. The proposed development is located between San Elijo Hills and Escondido in Harmony Grove.
The project also includes 5,000 square feet of commercial/civic uses, 35 acres of biological open space and four acres of public and private parks and a wastewater treatment facility on site.
Developers RCS Harmony Partners will need an amendment to the county’s General Plan, rezoning and a habitat loss permit as the project would impact Diegan coastal scrub. The project earned approval from the San Diego County Planning Commission in May.
The Rancho Santa Fe Association has been keeping tabs on the project due to its potential impacts on traffic and Rancho Santa Fe’s roads but has not taken an official position, while the San Dieguito Planning Group voted 10-0 in April to recommend denial of the project.
In its denial, the group stated that the project is not compatible with the General Plan and that the high density project poses significant risk due to its location in a “very high fire hazard severity zone” as designated by CAL FIRE.
“The County should not allow additional residential density beyond that allowed by right in the General Plan without first ensuring that the impact of the change would not impede the safe evacuation of existing and future residents in areas like this prone to major fire events,” the group’s denial letter read.
The planning group as well as project opponents have expressed concerns about evacuation in a wildfire event as the development does not have a second ingress or egress road and the development and all surrounding residents must share the only safe evacuation route on Country Club Drive.
During the group’s April hearing, area residents shared their “terrifying” experiences trying to escape the fast-moving Cocos Fire in 2014 and in their denial, the group noted that the extreme 2017 wildfires in California and their consequences have “demonstrated the need for sound planning to avoid loss of life.”
The Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District granted the project waivers from San Diego County Consolidated Fire Code regarding maximum dead-end road lengths—the regulations require a secondary road when a project is proposed on a dead-end road of more than 800 feet; the proposed project is on a 4,000-foot long dead-end road. As part of their denial, the planning group requested that those waivers be reexamined.
According to the Planning Commission’s report, a Fire Protection Plan (FPP) has been prepared for the project to evaluate the level of potential fire hazard from the proposed project and the methods and measures proposed to minimize that hazard.
According to the report, the project meets the intent of San Diego County Consolidated Fire Code through the implementation of specifically developed measures and features that exceed code requirements, including a third travel lane for the entirety of Country Club Drive, fuel modification zones on site and ignition resistant construction.
The commission’s report concluded that even with the additional traffic from the project, the long evacuation time experienced during the Cocos Fire are expected to be reduced due to improved evacuation routes as a part of the project, other road improvements in the area and a more defined and coordinated evacuation plan.
The project will be served by a new fire station in Harmony Grove Village, operated by Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District, approximately 1.3 miles away.
The Harmony Grove Village South is not the only project with a General Plan Amendment (GPA) in the works in the area. At its July meeting, the San Dieguito Planning Group discussed the Harmony Grove Village South project, as well as Valiano, a proposed 326-home project in Eden Valley and Harmony Grove south of Escondido that will also require a GPA.
“The County Plan includes sufficient other areas already zoned for such projects in areas the County determined were more appropriate for growth,” read the group’s July letter to the county. “The County General Plan was thoughtfully constructed; the zoning approved for both project areas was not erroneous and reflects the appropriate density for the sites negotiated with neighboring areas. There is no need for a GPA that would award the owner a zoning arbitrage and encourage others to attempt the same rather than buy and develop property needing no zoning density changes.”
Earlier in the year, a group called San Diegans for Managed Growth had worked to get the Safeguard Our San Diego Countrysides on the ballot this November which would require voter approval for GPAs that increase residential density in semi-rural and rural areas of the unincorporated areas of the county.
The deadline for turning in the required 67,837 signatures is Aug. 10.