By Karen Brainard
Following recommendations from staff and legal counsel, Ramona Municipal Water District directors decided at its May 10 meeting that more information is needed before it can issue a fire service availability letter for the Ramona Air Center development.
Karl Higgins, a partner of the air center, told the board that he needs a fire service availability letter so he can circulate the environmental impact report (EIR) for the proposed development.
Called Montecito at Ramona Air Center, the development will be at the north end of Montecito Road opposite the existing air field. The project, offering fee-simple ownership of land and hangars, is designed to include 56 hangar offices, customized to the owner’s specifications. Also planned is a 9,100-square-foot Hangar Owners Association building, which will include a private aviation club with a clubhouse, lounge, board room, observation tower, offices, and indoor and outdoor dining facilities.
Last year the Ramona fire marshal determined the district lacked adequate fire protection for such a development. To solve this problem, Higgins came to the board in June 2010, proposing the formation of a landowner-initiated Community Facilities District (CFD) to fund additional fire protection. The special taxing district would affect only owners or tenants of the proposed RAC development.
Kim Byrens, a public finance attorney and partner with Best Best & Krieger LLP, advised the water board last year about the pros and cons of a CFD.
Byrens told the board at its May 10 meeting that fire protection costs need to be determined and included in the letter. Such costs would include the construction of a fire station, fire equipment, and maintaining staff.
Lindsay Puckett, a land use attorney, also with Best Best & Krieger, said the draft fire service availability letter gave a narrow description of fire services. More detail would limit the water district’s risk, she said.
“The danger in moving forward with the letter...is that there are certain unknowns,” said Puckett. “What we recommend is holding on, discussing with the developer and at minimum getting a better understanding of conditions that we need to impose on the project to make sure, one, that the district isn’t left holding the bag and, two, that the fire safety issues are adequately addressed.”
Higgins, however, said that the draft letter states the air center will either form a CFD, join an existing CFD, or pay developer fees to the water district to fund the air center’s fair share of the additional impact, in perpetuity, on fire services.
“I’m going to pay you, no matter what,” said Higgins.
Board President Bryan Wadlington said he was excited last year about the idea of a CFD to finance additional fire protection, but added that the district needs assurances the services will be funded.
“We are encumbered by law to provide services once combustibles are brought on that site,” Wadlington said. “Until that CFD is formed, we don’t have those assurances because we can’t afford it.” The board requested Higgins pay a $7,500 deposit to cover staff and legal time to develop more information, asked staff to bring a status report to the May 24 board meeting, and suggested a goal of 30 days to finalize the issue.