Cumming Ranch slated for Planning Commission Aug. 17

By Karen Brainard

Cumming Ranch, the 125-lot residential subdivision proposed for an area near Highland Valley Road and state Route 67, will go before the county Planning Commission on Aug. 17.

The Planning Commission will meet, beginning at 9 a.m., at 5201 Ruffin Road, Suite B, in San Diego.

Cumming Ranch Developer Gene Driscoll has been planning the project for approximately 10 years, dealing with environmental regulations and opposition from neighboring residents, and working with the county to help meet its goals for the Ramona Grasslands Preserve.

“This property was really designed from the ground up to accommodate the Ramona Grasslands,” Driscoll told a group during his presentation to the Ramona Real Estate Association earlier this year.

There are those who vehemently oppose the development, saying it will spoil the rural atmosphere of Ramona and will increase traffic. A group of residents have formed Save Our Ramona, and members of Committee for a Rural Ramona have voiced opposition.

The Ramona Community Planning Group approved the project’s draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in December 2010.

Driscoll said there have been letters of support and noted the local jobs the project would create.

The 682.6-acre Cumming Ranch is one-fourth mile north of the intersection of Route 67 and Highland Valley Road with portions of the property’s western and northern boundaries adjoining lands acquired by the county for the grasslands.

The property is owned by 805 Properties, a California general partnership that purchased it in 1994. Driscoll is the managing partner. Original plans called for a golf course-type project for seniors but that changed when the grasslands were approved, said Driscoll.

In July 2002, County Supervisor Dianne Jacob hosted a meeting for landowners in the grassland area to discuss and collaborate on such issues as land uses, preservation, and the North County Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP).

Driscoll said that to accommodate the grasslands, Cumming Ranch will provide 457.8 acres of open space, to be made available for inclusion in the preserve. Residential lots, ranging from 1 acre to 3.1 acres, would be developed on the remaining 215 acres. The project would also fund and install 2.42 miles of public trails and pathways.

According to Driscoll, he had planned for larger parcels but as his property got whittled down, he settled for the 125 lots, no less than one acre.

Still, there are residents who say one-acre lots are too small.

“The one-acre lot houses do not fit in the existing surrounding community, ignoring the current zoning,” stated resident Tim Alward by email.

“We love Ramona the way it is. A rural atmosphere without too many houses. This development will degrade and change the essence of Ramona like any other place in the county,” commented Peter Krickhuhn.

Dave and Susie Amundson-Gardner sent in this statement: “We chose to live in Ramona for its peaceful, rural lifestyle under the light of the stars, and its small hometown appeal. This development will change the essence of Ramona and disrupt the eco-system of the Grasslands, where raptors and owls forage, and fragile flora and fauna continue to flourish.”

Driscoll said his plans comply with the county’s General Plan Update.

Of the 457.8 acres conveyed to the preserve, 231.5 acres is set aside for project mitigation, 30.7 acres will be used for a Ramona vernal pool preserve, and 57.1 acres will be donated.

The remaining 138.5 acres will be available for the county to purchase for the grasslands. Driscoll said of the 3,400+ acres acquired for the grasslands, the county, in almost every case, purchased the land.

“In our case they are getting 487 acres for the grasslands but only have to purchase 138.5 acres, so it’s a good deal for the county,” said Driscoll.

Other complaints about the project are that it will kill native plants and endangered species and cause sewer and water problems.

Plans call for all oak trees but two, which will be relocated, to be preserved. Driscoll said he will plant an additional 30 oak trees.

Driscoll said an open space area will provide a link for wildlife movement. He also said the project is designed to meet California AB 32 climate change regulations, which includes reducing outdoor water consumption by a minimum of 50 percent.

The development would receive its water and sewer services from the Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD), which has approved the project. Cumming Ranch would be annexed to the Santa Maria Sewer plant. An RMWD study recently found that the plant may be under maximum capacity. Cumming Ranch states that it would participate in funding for sewer plant improvements.

   
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