By Joe Tash
Grading resumed Tuesday (Feb. 12) on a controversial and long-delayed commercial and residential development at the entrance to the Whispering Palms community, following a judge’s ruling that cleared a legal obstacle to the project.
On Jan. 31, Superior Court Judge Earl H. Maas III issued a ruling that in effect lifted a suspension of the project that had been in place for about two years, said Wayne Brechtel, attorney for Newport Pacific, Inc., the developer of the project, which is called Palma de la Reina.
The project is planned for a 4.3-acre parcel at Via de la Valle and Cancha de Golf. It will include 54 apartments, 19,500 square feet of office and 9,500 square feet of retail space.
The parcel is the last large, undeveloped piece of land within the Whispering Palms community, which consists of about 600 homes and condominiums. Richard Cavanaugh, owner of Newport Pacific, developed Whispering Palms starting in 1963.
Cavanaugh has been working to develop the 4.3-acre parcel since 1991, said Brechtel. An earlier plan to build an assisted living facility met with strong opposition from Whispering Palms residents and others in the community, and was later withdrawn.
“It has been a long journey,” said Brechtel.
The current plan for Palma de la Reina is no more popular. It is opposed by the Whispering Palms Community Council — which filed lawsuits to stop the project — along with the San Dieguito Community Planning Group and the Rancho Santa Fe Association.
Although the project was approved by the County Board of Supervisors, Judge Maas ruled in 2011 that a full environmental impact report was needed, thus putting the project on hold. Last year, the county approved the environmental report, and then dismissed an appeal of its decision filed by the planning group, based on a technicality.
Now that the judge has allowed the project to go forward, the only option for the Whispering Palms Community Council would be an appeal to the state appellate court, and a bid to obtain an injunction.
“My clients are making that decision. They need to meet and determine if that’s the route they want to take,” said attorney Julie Hamilton, who represents the community council in its efforts to challenge the project.
Cavanaugh, who lives in Whispering Palms, said it is unfortunate that the legal and bureaucratic process has delayed the development for so long, but he is happy the work can now go forward.
“It will be a real improvement to the community,” he said.
Residents and community groups have argued that the project will add to traffic congestion on local roadways, that it lacks adequate parking and will be out of character with Whispering Palms.
Brechtel has said that in order to offset increased traffic from the project, the developer will make improvements to nearby intersections and contribute between $500,000 and $700,000 to the county’s traffic impact fund.