Newland Sierra development site. Photo courtesy of Newland Communities

Following a public hearing that stretched through much of the day, the county Board of Supervisors on Wednesday approved a 2,000-plus-unit housing development in the North County.

The 4-0 vote with Supervisor Dianne Jacob absent amended several provisions in the county general plan to make way for the project.

Newland Communities, which developed 4-S Ranch, near Rancho Bernardo, has proposed building a master-planned community called Newland Sierra in the Miriam Mountains area, directly west of Interstate 15 and near the cities of Escondido, San Marcos and Vista.

The proposed development is in an area noted for wildlife and a tranquil ambiance.

Once completed on the 1,985-acre site, Newland Sierra will feature 2,135 homes, 81,000 square feet of commercial space, a six-acre school site, 35.87 acres of public and private parks, 19.2 miles of multi-use community trails, an equestrian staging area and 1,209 acres of open space.

The project also will include numerous eco-friendly features, including solar panels, electric-vehicle charging stations, xeriscaping and gray-water systems, according to the developers.

On June 28, the county Planning Commission voted 6-1 in favor of the project, deciding that it met general-plan requirements and all codes, ordinances and regulations.

A fire station is one mile from the proposed development, according to the county.

Describing Newland Sierra as “well-designed and well-planned,” Supervisor Bill Horn noted that there has not been significant growth of late in District 5, which he represents. Most development has taken place in the East County, because coastal cities have resisted expanding their limits, Horn added.

In commenting on the plan, Board Chairwoman Kristin Gaspar pointed out the need for more homes in the area.

“(It is) undeniable we’re working against the backdrop of a housing crisis, but no one project will fix that,” Gaspar said.

Supervisor Ron Roberts commented that the county has to consider its general plan based on current needs, and more housing overshadows that. He agreed with Supervisor Greg Cox that the plan was a considerable improvement over a previous Merriam Mountains development proposal that the board voted down in 2010.

The hearing on the project drew strong interest from the public, with a long series of speakers queuing up to air their opinions about it.

“We’re gonna be here quite a while,* Gaspar told the audience before the meeting started.

As it turned out, the public comments continued for nearly six hours.

As part of the project, Newland will install a painted median along Deer Springs Road, a main route within the project; install recycled water lines; and donate over $1,000 per unit to the county Housing Trust Fund, officials said.

Community groups in Twin Oaks Valley, Bonsall and Hidden Meadows opposed the plan.

Those in favor said the project would mean more housing for people working in North County, cut down on commute times, preserve open space and be a carbon-neutral, sustainable community.

Many supporters who live in the North County told the supervisors they had seen their children or friends move to Arizona or Texas because they cannot afford to live in California. More than a few sported T-shirts or stickers reading “I Support A Better Choice.”

Rita Brandin, senior vice president and development director of Newland Communities, said the homes will be for working families, adding that just 375 acres will be developed for residences while focusing on sustainability.

The area inevitably will be developed, Brandin pointed out.

“But will it be a place (that) many can afford, or a luxury-home site?” he asked.

Jerry Sanders, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and former mayor of San Diego, said a lack of housing is costing businesses good workers.

“Where we put new units matters also,” Sanders said.

Opponents — some wearing “Stop Newland Sierra” T-shirts or stickers — said the project would not be a good fit for the area due to possible harm to fragile habitat and rural character, increased traffic, noise concerns, lack of water, public infrastructure and school costs.

The development also would be incompatible with the county general plan, some argued.

Clif Williams, a land-use analyst with law firm Latham & Watkins, protested that the project would be situated in a highly fire-prone area and would fail to sufficiently address regional affordable-housing needs.

Kathy van Ness, general manager of San Marcos-based Golden Door Spa, said the benefits of Newland Sierra would not be worth destroying the surrounding mountain landscape.

— City News Service

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