Ramona Community Planning Group has approved a proposed general plan amendment for 417 homes on the 935-acre Montecito Ranch northeast of Ramona Airport.
One group member called it “a small stimulus package for Ramona.”
“Ten years in the making and finally getting down to the board’s approval,” said RCPG member Paul Stykel. “...When it happens, a lot of people are going to be put to work. It’s going to be good for the local economy.”
If approved by the county, most of the homes will be on half-acre lots, and 64 percent of the property, or 601 acres, will be set aside for parks and permanent open space. Most of that will be an open space preserve that will be part of the Ramona grasslands.
Lot sizes will range from one-half acre to 1.8 acres. About 20 acres are planned for a community park complex with an eight-acre park with ballfields and a 12-acre historic park that will include renovation of the historic ranch house on the property.
Seven miles of public trails and a two-acre equestrian center are planned, and about 10 acres is set aside for a charter school. Ramona planners last Thursday asked that the charter school site be designated a school/park site.
Access to the Montecito Ranch LLC project will be from Ash Street and Pine/state Route 78 and Montecito Way. The Montecito Way entrance is about one-half mile from Ramona Airport.
Road improvements are planned to Montecito Road from Main Street/SR-67 west to Montecito Way, to Ash Street from SR-78 west to the project, and to Montecito Way, and the road through the development will create a new “community loop” road from Ash and 78 to Montecito Road and 67.
Ramona’s existing plan calls for a minimum lot size of two acres. Chris Brown, project manager for Montecito Ranch LLC, compared the developer’s original two- and four-acre lot proposal for nearly 400 homes with the map Ramona planners approved last Thursday—”to show how we got to where we are today, how the project has evolved over the last decade, and why it is what it is.”
Soon after Montecito Ranch LLC purchased the property in 1999, preservation of what was to become the Ramona Grasslands became an issue, he said County Supervisor Dianne Jacob toured property some Ramonans wanted preserved as the Ramona Grasslands, and in June 2001 the county sent Montecito Ranch LLC a letter, directing the developer to “provide a substantial amount of grasslands with a large block of open space to ensure the long-term viability of these foraging lands.”
Because “grasslands provide a critical foraging area for numerous resident and migratory raptors,” the letter stated, preservation of the grasslands would require “large, contiguous blocks of open space and connectivity,” Brown said.
That sent the developer back to the drawing board and the result was a clustered development with smaller lots and large blocks of open space, continued Brown.
Since 1999, composition of Ramona’s elected planning group has changed and, in response to planning group comments about three years ago, the proposed project briefly had a 400-room hotel, vineyard/bungalow complex, senior housing and commercial center.
“The pendulum has swung with our group over the past 10 years,” said RCPG Chair Chris Anderson, adding that this group has to deal with decisions made by previous boards.
“It’s forced this development to be the way it is presented to us today, so we have to deal with what the others made us do,” she said.
Included in the plan are suggestions from the community and planning group such as the equestrian center, and public park, ballfields, and trails.
“They’ve worked with us and done what they can within their boundaries for the last 10 years,” said RCPG Vice Chair Dennis Sprong.
Even three of the four planners who voted against the project—Torry Brean, Dennis Grimes and Kristi Mansolf—had good things to say about it. Angus Tobiason, who also opposed the plan, repeated concerns about fire protection, sewer capacity and traffic.
“Originally there were no horse lots and now there are horse lots,” said Mansolf, adding “you really listened to the community.”
A package sewage treatment plant, million-gallon water tank placement, density and traffic were among Mansolf’s concerns.
“I would have preferred the larger lots and the more distributed layout of the original plans,” said Grimes, adding, “it’s very clear that the county has had strong input into this.”
Grimes believes plans for a package wastewater treatment plant sets a bad precedent. “We should not have package treatment plants with projects this size.“
The plan calls for two options for sewage from the project, said Brown—hook to the Ramona sewer district at a charge of about $20 million or build a package plant for $5 million to $7 million. The project is in Ramona Municipal Water District’s water district but not it’s sewer district, said Brown.
Brean complimented the project’s parkland and trail system, but said the project “has represented for me a lot of the frustrations I’ve had with the local planning process and our ability to provide input.”
“The biggest thing I think we have control and influence over should be the community character aspects of lot sizes, and I haven’t seen, since my time here, any real work on that,” said Brean. “I know the county exhorted extreme pressure, so we’ve been told, on this, and there has never been any push back...These lot sizes are not within the community character for that portion of town. The vast majority of them don’t even allow the kind of animal keeping and horses that would take advantage of the trails, and I have a problem with that.”
Some planners criticized the county for pressuring the developer to cluster homes on smaller lots. Group member Kathy S. Finley said previous planning group members played a role.
“I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the county’s got them cornered,” she said. “We have them cornered, too. And I want to make sure that’s clear. It’s not just the county. It’s our planning group x number of years ago. I just want to reiterate that. A lot of you keep saying, well, why can’t we go back to the two and four (acre lots)? Because we, the planning group 10 years ago, are the ones who put this project in this position, and now the county is supporting us, and they’re holding Montecito Ranch to what we wanted back then...We aren’t the same people anymore, but we are still the planning group.”
Several Ramonans supported the project in writing, and four others spoke at the Dec. 3 meeting.
Ramona Chamber of Commerce stands behind Montecito Ranch, said Thad Clendenen, chamber president. “We believe it will be a positive addition to Ramona and its businesses.”
The chamber wants “to see Ramona continue to be a vibrant and prospering community in Central and North San Diego County,” continued Clendenen, saying that the chamber believes the project “will bring needed jobs, financial benefits to the community, (and) 417 affluent families in the community will provide a sizable economic spark to our local businesses as well.”
“I’m economic development all the way for Ramona, and I think no-growth planning groups really stymied Main Street,” said Carol Fowler, former chamber president.
Fowler, chair of the chamber’s Economic Development Committee and a member of the Ramona Village Design group, said the planning group did a great job of making Montecito Ranch a Ramona project, “putting your stamp on it.”
“I think it offers everything to the community,” said Fowler. “...I think you guys have the vision to make it happen and I think that would really impact main Street and the amount of people that would shop in Ramona. We keep going down to Poway, we go to Escondido, we go to El Chon, we go to Santee. We don’t keep our sales tax dollars in Ramona.”
Kaaren Madden, who lives a block from the project’s Ash Street entrance, said that she prefers the original map with larger lots, but she supports the road improvements and the community park and looks forward to the trails, so she doesn’t have to walk in the street.
“I drive all over this county looking at properties and developments, and, when I saw this at the Ramona Real Estate Association meeting, I was bowled over,” said Realtor Charlene Foote of Ramona. “It’s absolutely beautiful...and I’d like to see it come to Ramona.”
Complimenting the caliber of the project, Foote said, “It goes to show you how determined we are as a community to have stuff like this, because, if you go into many of the other communities in San Diego County, you don’t get this.”
Doug Funk represented the Lemurian Fellowship, which owns land adjacent to Montecito Ranch. The fellowship does not want a million-gallon water tank on its property, as shown on the project map, he said. The developer offered to buy two acres of fellowship land for the tank, but, “when we saw this monstrosity sitting on top of that hill...we said no.”
“I submit to you that some of the people who are gushing about this project don’t have a wastewater treatment facility going in on their driveway or within a few hundred feet of their house,” said Funk.
Brown responded that there are a couple different options for the water tank on Montecito Ranch.