Archives: Current Issues 2004
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| Villa Paraiso/Gatlin project (07/06/04)
A TANGLED WEB: ANOTHER THREAT TO THE VALLEY Little by little, bit by bit, commercial developers change our natural landscapes forever, often by manipulating public policy to accomplish their own ends. Left unchecked, their designs transform open spaces into ecologically unsound development. Such is the lesson we have to learn yet again as another attempt is made to profit from development in and around the sensitive wetlands of the San Dieguito River Valley.
A 2.2 acre piece of land on the northwest corner of Via de la Valle and El Camino Real, just east of Scalini's parking lot, is at the center of a tangled historical web, and the threads are not easy to unravel. Owned by UNOCAL, it was the subject of heated political debate in the late 1980s and early 90s, when the zoning was modified and the developers moved in. This property and the adjacent lots were originally, in the dim and distant past, zoned agricultural, a recognition that they were located in both a wetland and a floodplain, and a rural residential neighborhood.
With a nostalgic nod to the preservation of the historical rural use, in 1978 the County Board of Supervisors modified the zoning to commercial on a portion of the Via de la Valle frontage to allow for Mary's Tack and Feed on the north side. All would have been well, but Mary's moved across the street, and property owners saw a chance to take advantage of the modified zoning. The result was the pink Polo Plaza, with three of five lots zoned commercial and the bookend lots solely as parking areas. But the parking allotted was for office space, and inadequate for restaurant use. Scalini's asked for and received permission to use 1 acre of the UNOCAL property for extra parking.
Then began the tangled web of petitions, appeals etc, when UNOCAL wanted to build a gas station and brought in fill dirt and proposed to pour concrete. Needless to say, neighboring residents objected. The fill was seven feet high, not the proposed 2 feet, and the result was a local disaster. The UNOCAL proposal was never approved, but the damage was already done. The septic systems of two adjacent homeowners failed, and had to be replaced at a cost of more than $20,000. There is now around the fill a breeding ground for mosquitoes: an 8-to 10-foot trench full of standing water. The City of San Diego installed a drain under the fill, but it was engineered too high, and doesn't work. There are other complications.
Now developer Frank Gatlin has bought the property from UNOCAL and wants to build "Villa Paraiso", a 9360-square foot office building, and an 1100-square foot garage on top of the fill. Remember, this is fill on a wetland in a floodplain. Part of the property has responded to the wet conditions and reverted to wetland habitat. Supporters of the project claim they will preserve the new "wetland" and therefore should not have to go through the full environmental review process.
One local planning group and nearby residents are, of course, resisting this proposed project.
Update 06/26/04------------------------------------------- Does a decade-old, illegal fill turn a protected wetland habitat into a commercial building pad? That is what we are trying to figure out.
Ten years ago a gasoline station project on 2.2 acres of wetland (1.22 acres of salt marsh and .094 acres of habitat) in the northwest corner of El Camino Real and Via de la Valle required a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Today —after 5,000 cubic yards of illegal fill was allegedly placed on the lot –—City of San Diego staff is now saying a new 9,600 square foot commercial project may NOT require an EIR because the development will restore the remaining wetland.
The site of the proposed commercial building is within the “Focused Planning Area” (FPA) of the San Dieguito River Valley Park. Our position is that the project must be consistent with the FPA goals, objectives and guidelines. These include:
* Conserving sensitive resources,
* Protecting water resources,
* Preserving the flood plain,
* Retaining the largely rural character by limiting the visual
and physical encroachment of development.
The property at the corner of El Camino Real and Via de la Valle, slated for an office complex, is located at the base of a relatively large wooded, residential basin of land that collects water and directs it toward the San Dieguito River. It is the site of distinctive riparian vegetation, intermittent springs and ground water and is within the 100-year flood plain. The allegedly illegal fill on this property, as well as on two properties to the south, appears to be blocking water flow to the river and causing flooding on residential properties to the north. The property is zoned A-1-1 or agricultural/single family residential. Obviously the developers would have to ask for an amendment to the area’s General Plan and a rezone in order to build a commercial facility.
The City’s position appears to be that the project will NOT have a significant effect on the environment (because it is already so damaged?) and does not require the preparation of an EIR. Instead they plan to issue a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), a determination that no significant environmental effects will occur because revisions to the project have been made or mitigation measures will be taken which reduce all potentially significant impacts.
Unfortunately the project is shrouded with past improprieties making the review process especially tangled. The Project Review Committee of the Joint Powers Authority held a hearing on the project on June 21. The development now has the support of Michael Beck of the Endangered Habitat League, based on mitigation measures of the "remaining" wetland".
No action will be taken until environmental documents have been completed by the City. The FSDRV position is that a complete EIR is required to look at the whole picture of damage created by inappropriate grading on three contiguous lots ending up at the riverbank. Ann Gardner