After a seven-year battle, county approves 282 homes for North

Published December 12, 2007, at

Seven years after developers first proposed plans to complete the buildout of Murieta, the county Board of Supervisors on Wednesday night approved the vestiges of that original plan – three developments that would add 282 homes to RM North.

The board voted 4-1 in a series of seven votes on the projects, with Supervisor Don Nottoli, who represents Murieta, dissenting each time.

The developments have been hotly opposed almost since they were proposed, and that opposition continues.

Supes vote

Listening as the supervisors vote are, from left, RMA lawyer Steven S. Weil, RMA General Manager David Stiffler and development activist Candy Chand.

The Rancho Murieta Association, which last week persuaded the county to delay the vote by a week, told the board Wednesday that its recently discovered documents – which seem to say the land to be developed already is part of the association – were reason to delay the vote by another month.

RMA President Jack Cooper said the developers, RMA and community should have a dialogue to see “how we can work together and see that reasonable development is accomplished. I don’t think we need years and years of endless litigation and the enormous costs that go with it.”

He added, “We’d like to open dialogue instead of lawsuits.”

The developers say they do not intend to annex into the association, which gives them more latitude in development and sidesteps local politics. Development opponents are demanding annexation because it would require custom homes to be built, in accordance with the RMA’s CC&Rs.

Nottoli continued to push points, which he first raised last week, that challenged the developments. But most answers brought back by county staff members disagreed with his views, including that the annexation issue had no bearing on the vote before the board.

Reacting to Nottoli’s consideration of the RMA’s request for a 30-day delay, Deputy County Counsel Krista Whitman said, “I don’t recommend continuing it 30 days. … I would be very surprised if the parties were able to reach agreement in 30 days. … I don’t think that the county’s approval changes whether these properties were annexed into the RMA or not. … I don’t see that a month’s delay gets the board any further than you are tonight.”

The county has held dozens of hours of hearings – downtown and in Rancho Murieta – on the development issues.

Steven S. Weil of Berding & Weil, lawyers for the RMA, echoed Cooper’s request for a 30-day delay and offered some alternative conditions the board might impose, including requiring RMA architectural review of the new developments’ housing.

Addressing the confusion about the land’s status, he offered what might be an apt summary of the last seven years: “Lord knows, anything that involves Rancho Murieta has layers of complexity and consequences that cannot always be seen.”

Supervisor Roger Dickinson resisted the idea of the county trying to resolve the issue of whether the development land is annexed and therefore under the RMA’s jurisdiction.

“It’s not our job,” he said. “This is a job between those of you who have a private disagreement over what the nature of this property is. …

“That’s for you all to figure out, if you have a difference of opinion, privately. The law will take care of that for you.”

John M. Taylor of Taylor & Wiley, lawyer for the developers, echoed the notion that the disagreement wasn’t a matter for the county and he challenged the RMA for its actions.

Citing the Mutual Benefit Agreement, which sets terms for development of the remainder of Murieta, and which the RMA negotiated with the developers over years, Taylor noted that the MBA requires the RMA to support the development proposals.

“That’s a very inconsistent proposition with what they’ve put forward (to the county),” he said.

Three Murietans addressed the board, Candy Chand, Terry Hanson and Janis Eckard.

Chand, like the others a longtime opponent of the proposals, said the county was handing the RMA and the developers guns and inviting them to shoot it out in the legal arena. The county would be liable for the outcome, she said.

She said, “The county … doesn’t see the big picture. … You have environmental groups, federal regulators, state regulators telling you there’s a problem.”

In comments after the meeting, Chand said, “I am amazingly calm and have been for a few days. … The hearings were a charade.”

She listed the issues that will continue to delay the developments, including the need to expand the water treatment plant, the sour real estate market, the annexation question and action by environmental groups.

Taylor, the developers’ lawyer, said after the meeting, “I believe we’re happy that we’re through. I think we’re happy that we received such a nice 4-1 approval by the board.”

The RMA’s Nov. 30 letter to the county on the recent annexation discovery, written by attorney Weil, said a declaration of annexation was filed Dec. 31, 1980, and followed up with another filing, making a correction, two weeks later.

“Although difficult to trace because of the metes and bounds descriptions in the exhibit,” the letter says, “it appears that most if not all of the ‘Rancho North’ property … may be within the property included in this legal description.”

After making the discovery, the letter continues, the RMA tried through title search to determine if the annexation had been rescinded but could find no evidence of that.

The Residences of Murieta Hills West and East would be bounded by Guadalupe, Puerto and Escuela drives. They were originally one project and are now two, each with 99 lots. Warmington Homes is the developer for Residences East and the Woodside Group is developing Residences West.

The following information about the projects comes from the environmental impact report for the projects prepared by the county Department of Environmental Review and Assessment.

Residences West consists of 59.9 acres and Residences East is 86.2 acres. Together they have 70 acres of open space, about 48 percent of the total acreage. This includes a 30-plus-acre oak woodland.

The planning department recommended approval of the Residences projects after developers made grading and other changes.

The Retreat, located near the Country Club, would consist of 84 lots on three pieces of land totaling 30.3 acres. The developer is Cassano Kamilos Homes.

The county Planning Department did not recommend approval for the Retreat project because the property was planned for higher density development than what’s proposed.

All of the projects will pay fees to comply with the county requirement for affordable housing instead of providing on-site low-income housing.