Whispering Palms Community Council takes legal action seeking reversal of Rancho Santa Fe project EIR approval


By Kathy Day

Let the debate about the proposed mixed-use project at the entrance to Whispering Palms continue – in court.

David Nugent, a longtime member of the Whispering Palms Community Council, said July 13 the group has filed documents seeking a writ of mandate asking that the recent county certification of the project’s environmental impact report be rejected on the basis it was inadequate.

“We feel we have exhausted the administrative remedies,” he said. “Our only option is to go to court.”

The council, the San Dieguito Planning Group and the RSF Association have long objected to the project based on its density and likely impacts on traffic and access.

When Richard Cavanaugh and his company, Newport Pacific Inc., received the EIR certification in June, his attorney Wayne Brechtel said an appeal would not be a surprise.

Cavanaugh wants to build 54 apartments totaling 58,000 square feet of living space, 19,500 square feet of offices and 9,500 square feet of retail space on a 4.3 acre parcel at the corner of Via de la Valle and Cancha de Golf.

The project site is the last vacant piece of land in the Whispering Palms development, which includes about 600 condominiums and single-family homes.

In signing off on the environmental report, the county Department of Public Works conceded the project “would result in significant cumulative traffic impacts on Via de la Valle/Paseo Delicias. The identified mitigation measures include payment into the (traffic impact fund) which would reduce, but not eliminate, the significant cumulative traffic impacts.”

The document goes on to say that the project should be allowed to move forward because it fits in with the county’s general plan and zoning for the area, would complete development of Whispering Palms, supplements the range of housing offered in Whispering Palms, and promotes the county’s land-use goals by providing a sustainable, mixed-use development.

In an interview earlier this year, Brechtel said the project is only one of many in the area that will add to traffic congestion. He said the developer will be making improvements to nearby intersections and contributing between $500,000 and $700,000 to the county’s traffic impact fund.

“The project is contributing to mitigating its impacts directly and through the county program for mitigation. It’s by no means tossing gas onto the fire,” Brechtel said.

Paul Marks, chair of the San Dieguito Planning Group, said the developer “tried to fix the EIR, but our position is that it’s not any better.”

Nugent, who with other council members has presented alternate plans to Cavanaugh in the past that they felt would be acceptable to Whispering Palms residents, said, “The most important point is that the community is anxious to have a proper development” in that spot.

Jeff Carmel, another member of the residents’ association who has led the opposition to the project for years, said on July 16 that the lawsuit is a way of keeping the pressure on the developer. The current plan, Carmel said, is an attempt to “maximize the lot, filling it from edge to edge with two-story buildings.”

“We hope the developer realizes that unless he changes the plans substantially that we will continue to fight,” Carmel said. “The community wants to see the lot developed in a proper manner consistent with the character of the community.”

Meanwhile, he added, “I think we have to get (the decision) out of the hands of the bureaucrats at the county. Once we have a divorce from that we will have a level playing field in a court of law.”

Brechtel said they know the project “is controversial, but once it is in place it will be something they embrace.”