By Karen Brainarf
Ramona Community Planning Group (RCPG) members rejected the proposed expansion of a rehabilitative center on Highland Valley Road for brain-injured victims after hearing from residents who opposed the project and voiced complaints.
Before the vote was taken at their July 7 meeting, planning group members said that they are only an advisory group and their recommendations have been overridden by the county in the past. The project has received a recommendation to approve from the San Diego County Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU) and will go before the county Planning Commission on July 22.
Hidden Valley Ranch, often referred to as Highland Valley Ranch, is owned by Kevin O’Connor. The ranch is a long-term rehabilitative center for adults with traumatic brain injuries and provides therapeutic and recreational treatment alternatives.
O’Connor is seeking a major use permit modification to expand his care facility from 13 residents to 52 residents on his 25 acres of land.
Patrick Brown from DPLU told the planning group that the proposal includes the addition of three one-story homes and a physical therapy building. The new buildings will total about 23,000 square feet.
The planning group denied the project once before, but Brown said the proposal contained a number of changes, one of those being sewer service. Originally the plan included a package treatment plant, which DPLU does not support, said Brown. The new plans call for the center to abandon its septic tank and hook to the Ramona Municipal Water District. The sewer service area would have to be expanded to allow for the extension of a sewer line, he said.
Brown said neighbors of the area were concerned about a jump to 52 patients, so O’Connor has proposed the expansion over a 10-year period and the county will perform inspections between each phase.
Another concern from the public review, Brown said, was that there were “walkabouts”—people wandering off the property.
“I personally did extensive research on the issue. I checked with the community care licensing division and looked at the file and I found no incidence of walkabouts, no incidence of any kind on the facility,” said Brown, which drew an outburst from the audience.
Brown said the Sheriff’s Department did an extensive 10-year research and found no trespassing calls from nearby residents.
Neighbors of the area had their turn to speak. Jim Salvatore said he once took a patient back but never filed a complaint. Salvatore said he has dealt with the county for 50 years.
“The county has overridden this board several times. The county is after money. That’s all they want, is the taxes and the money,” he said.
Salvatore added that the area is not zoned for this type of project, as it is a residential agriculture zone.
Jack Allen said he has lived on Highland Valley Road since 1970. The treatment center began as a limited operation and the county said it would not be expanded, said Allen.
“I’m not against the people. They’ve got to be somewhere. It’s just not fair to the people who live there,” he said.