In a 13-2 vote, Ramona Community Planning Group supports the formation of a committee to review alternate locations for a new shopping center. The vote came last Thursday after the president of the firm interested in developing the center asked for help in finding about 35 acres in Ramona’s commercial district.
In November, the planning group heard a presentation for a 53-acre shopping center off Highway 67 at Ramona Maria Lane. Since then, Coast Income Properties Inc. took over the project and filed a plan amendment application (PAA) with the county.
The land, on the north side of the highway west of Susie Way, is agricultural, zoned for semi-rural uses and one unit per 10 acres, and would have to be rezoned for commercial use. Because the county is in the latter stages of its General Plan (GP) Update, it will deny the PAA request because of the effect it would have on the overall GP update scheduling, department of planning and land use (DPLU) Director Eric Gibson told the group.
“We also have concerns about this proposal with regard to land use planning (the issue of maintaining and reinforcing the town center of Ramona) and this particular property’s value as a part of a north-south wildlife corridor,” Gibson wrote.
“Is this the best location for this type of project?” Thomas Blake, Coast Income Properties president, asked, telling the planning group that the county and others have raised the issue. “What we’d like to do is take the next month and search in Ramona for various locations that could fit the criteria for this type of center, and what we’d like to do is enlist your help.”
While his firm has no commitment from Target, Blake said after the meeting that Target is aware of Coast Income’s effort.
“Target considers San Diego as part of their strategic market for them and Ramona is in their long-range plans, but we do need the community support,” he said.
Planning group Chair Chris Anderson told Blake that the group supports “a clear and defined commercial district of Third to Etcheverry and, once we got out to 80 percent buildout of our commercial, then it would go fatter instead of longer” for the town’s plan update, and that also is in Ramona’s existing plan. In addition, Ramona Design Review Board and the Ramona Village Design Committee support fattening rather than lengthening the commercial district, “so all four of us are in unison on that,” she said.
The county’s denial of the PAA is not specific to Coast Income’s project, she said. “We’re too far into the General Plan Update and so...any of the 26 unincorporated areas, this late in the stage of the game, they’re denying.”
In addition to needing at least 35 acres for the type of retail center planned, Blake said visibility, traffic, accessibility, and a willing seller are among criteria.
“If we can’t find a site, then you guys are going to have to make a decision,” he said, referring to the proposed location. “Is this enough of a benefit to the community that you want us to go forward on this site?”
Liz Massey of Ramona supports the proposal. As more people have moved here, the needs of the community have grown, she said. A new center would provide employment opportunities for Ramonans, and more people would shop in Ramona, thus enhancing existing businesses rather they forcing them to close. There are empty shops in town now, “and that’s before anything’s even come out here,” she said. “It sometimes comes down to are we providing what people need and want.”
Patrick Kiernan, who operates a business near the proposed site, supported finding a place for the project in the commercial district. He cautioned the planning group not to “jump into something we’re going to regret later on...It’s your job to make sure that this is done in a way that’s going to benefit Ramona.”
Norma Kiernan, who grew up in Poway, said a project this size “would destroy the flavor of Ramona. I would love to see Carmel Mountain stay in Carmel Mountain.”
Ramona businessman Doug Oliver opposes the project and said he and his wife moved here in 1991 “because we had horses and we needed property. We came here because it was a really nice quiet place...I don’t go to a small town to go to a big box store. I go to where the big box stores are—in big box areas.”
Ramona is a village, Oliver said, asking, “How can you say that parcel fits in a village?”
Planner Jim Piva cautioned Blake about being so open in his search for alternate sites. Once people know he’s searching for land for a commercial project, the price will go up, said Piva.
“I think it would almost be in your best interest, from a business standpoint, to look in secret and approach these landowners kind of incognito,” said Piva, adding that “we want you to put the development in Ramona.”
Planners Dennis Grimes and Katherine L. Finley cast the dissenting votes. Grimes said land for agriculture is limited and slowly disappearing and he’d “love to see you use some of the existing commercial property that’s here.”
Planner Torry Brean believes “this exercise is going to be good for all of us.” The consensus at meetings he has attended “is not so much against the big box as it is the location....We’ve talked about commercial/industrial aspects maybe down 10th or recently people have mentioned up San Vicente, and I think now is a real good time for us to come together and decide is that what we want to do.”
Blake said the committee could include representatives from the planning group, chamber, design review, village design and his development team. He hopes to return to the planning group on June 4 with the committee’s findings.