Backers of Rancho Librado project in Rancho Santa Fe tout benefits, but some opponents remain unmoved

Backers of a plan to build 54 age-restricted homes on a 28-acre property at Calzada del Bosque and Via de la Valle hosted a presentation Thursday, Aug. 6, at the Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club including wine and hors d’oeuvres, but they failed to persuade some neighbors, who remain staunchly opposed to the project.

The project proposed by Rancho Santa Fe resident Laura Mabee Boswell and her family — dubbed Rancho Librado — would include 50 “casitas” ranging in size from 3,200 to 4,800 square feet, as well as four custom homes of about 6,500 square feet.

Mabee and former Rancho Santa Fe Association Manager Pete Smith, who has been hired by the Mabee family to help shepherd the project through the county and Association approvals process, told the audience of about 100 that the development would provide an option for Ranch residents or family members who want to remain in or move to the community, but who don’t want the responsibility of maintaining a large property.

“There’s a saying that you can do anything in the Ranch but grow old,” Boswell said. “I for one would like to help change that.”

But some neighbors of the property, including Saiid Zarrabian, contend the project is out of character with the surrounding community, with its estate lots ranging from 2.5 to 15 acres. They are also concerned that if the county allows the general plan amendment sought by the Mabee family, it would pave the way for other higher-density development. As of Monday, he said, 899 people had signed an online petition opposing the project.

Zarrabian said in an interview after the presentation that he had searched far and wide for a community such as Rancho Santa Fe, which is close to the ocean and urban centers, but also has a rural ambiance.

“These guys are talking about changing it,” Zarrabian said. “It starts at the edges and creeps in.”

During the presentation, which took about two hours, including a question-and-answer session, Boswell, Smith and planner Ali Shapouri detailed what they say are the project’s benefits.

Along with meeting a “long-established need,” the project’s backers said it will provide $213,000 in additional revenue each year to the Association, and $150,000 per year to the Rancho Santa Fe School District. The project would also provide open space, trails and allow more than 110 Covenant homes to hook up to the community’s sewer system, according to the presentation.

The Rancho Santa Fe Covenant is governed by rules established by both the Association and the county of San Diego. According to Smith and Shapouri, the project is allowed by Association zoning, but an amendment to the county’s general plan would be needed to make it dovetail with the Association’s zoning.

Under the existing county general plan, minimum two-acre lot sizes would be allowed on the Mabee property, for a total of 14 homes.

Smith sought to dispel rumors, such as that project proponents are trying to side-step the Association’s rules. “There is no back door,” he said.

Following a multiyear approval process at the county and Association levels, he said, the project’s backers favor a community vote on the proposal. “We believe that’s an important thing to have happen,” Smith said.

Zarrabian disputed that the Association’s zoning allows the project, contending that in their presentation, the project’s backers left out language that says projects must meet county requirements as well as Covenant rules. “The county trumps the homeowners association,” he said.

He and other project opponents believe that if the county grants the requested general plan amendment, it will be more difficult to turn down future requests.

“That’s what happens. It’s that first one we think is opening the floodgate,” he said.

Smith said the Mabee family wants to put the facts about the project on the table and allow the community to make its decision after weighing the pros and cons.

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