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Castlerock Housing Project Meeting: Santeeans Dismayed at Lack of Communication

A housing project in the hills north of Santee is moving forward, beginning with a contentious public meeting.

About twenty people showed up to Monday night's Environmental Impact and Scoping meeting at the Mission Trails Park Visitor Center concerning the potential construction of the "Castlerock" housing project in the hills opposite . It was a contentious meeting.

There are currently two plans for the project, the main plan includes annexing the land to the City of Santee, so it becomes part of Santee, and if the Santee City Council doesn't approve of this, plan B is to keep the land as part of the City of San Diego.

The meeting was hosted by the City of San Diego Development Services Department (DSD), because the land is technically in San Diego, though, being directly across from West Hills High School, it is much nearer to established communities in Santee, than any San Diego community.

This was a point of contention with many in attendance, as the meeting notification was primarily listed on the City of San Diego website, and not at all on the City of Santee website. Many audience members publicly complained that not enough was done to about the meeting, some going as far as claiming that it was done in a "sneaky" fashion. Audience members were also discouraged by a closed gate in the parking area nearest the meeting, and signs saying no parking after 5 p.m., potentially confusing attendees to the 6 p.m. meeting.

The DSD representatives agreed they would do their best to communicate more clearly with Santeeans, but did not get into specifics. They also made it clear that this is the start of the project, and there will be other opportunities for public input.

"They got off to the wrong start, a closed gate discourages public input from the beginning," said Van Collinsworth, Executive Director of Preserve Wild Santee. "I hope they do one of these meetings in Santee."

The "Castlerock" project has been publicly considered since about 2004, but was dropped for reasons of the economy and environment, and is now being taken back up by Pardee Homes.

The DSD is moving forward with the "Annexation Plan" in mind, only to move to Plan B if annexation isn't possible. This is a confusing situation because the City of San Diego is leading a project which, if all goes to plan, will eventually end up in Santee, but no Santee leaders were officially represented at the meeting.

Two members of Santee City Staff happened to be at the meeting, though they kept a low profile and were not there in an official capacity as part of the meeting. City Attorney Shawn Hagerty and City Planner Melanie Kush tentatively answered a couple questions, but, as it was not the purpose of the meeting, they turned attention back to the DSD.

"The City of Santee is very aware of this project and is working with the City of San Diego on it," said Santee planning director Melanie Krush.

A Santee resident in attendance said she heard through the grapevine that the already met in private session and chose to annex the property, and asked the Santee Staff at the meeting if this was true. They gave no clear yes or no answer and at that time made it clear they were not there to answer those kinds of questions.

"I can neither confirm nor deny, because this was a closed session item under potential lawsuit/real estate... Staff and the Council are looking at all scenarios and options in light that San Diego is the project's jurisdiction. Everything depends on what San Diego does," said Mayor Randy Voepel, when asked for comment.

The Santee City Staff did say they would make sure the Santee City website has notifications about the project as the process continues.

A majority of the public in attendance spoke their mind publicly, as was the purpose of the meeting.

"The point of this meeting was to ask them [DSD] to look at alternatives, which allows decision makers to take a look at issues they may have missed," said Collinsworth.

Gardner Gary, with the San Diego Mountain Bike Association, was mostly concerned with the impact on the heavily traveled trails in the Sycamore Hills.

Potential impact issues raised by the public included many environmental issues, including vernal pools and area use by hikers and bikers; fire safety; change to the character of the neighborhood, increase of traffic on the already congested Mast Boulevard; air quality near the Sycamore Landfill; water runoff from the new, higher evelation houses, to the lower elevation neighborhoods, especially an issue due to the last winter; and one Santeean raised concerns about Santee's school system being flooded with more students.

The DSD acknowledges that "the project may have a significant effect on the environment," and have identified at least 16 potential issues. This meeting was geared toward identifying potential environmental hazards, not necessarily non-environmental concerns, and it is unclear when these types of concerns will be officially heard.

For more detailed information about the project you can download the information packet that was distributed at the meeting.

If you would like to officially input a comment to DSD regarding this project, by March 28 you must either mail it to Martha Blake, Senior Planner, City of San Diego Development Services Center, 1222 First Avenue, MS 501, San Diego, CA 92101, or email the comment to DSDEAS@sandiego.gov, referencing Project #10046 in the subject line.

Updated March 15 @ 4:55 p.m. to include comments by Mayor Randy Voepel.

Rob McNelis March 24, 2011 at 09:11 PM
I would just like to set the record straight! I am adamantly opposed to the project as it was presented to the San Diego Staff!! Unfortunately, this land does not belong to the city of Santee, it is part of the city of San Diego. In fact we have absolutely no say so with what the city of San Diego can and will do with this land. As it sits right now, the city of San Diego can not only build homes on this land (if they get their EIR certified) but keep all of the property tax revenue derived from the project and stick the city of Santee with the cost of public safety, road maintenance and traffic impacts. This is not a new project by any means, and thank goodness that the city leaders that were there before me had already started playing hard ball with San Diego in keeping them from doing what they want to do with no regard as to the effects that it will place on many aspects of our city. I ask that you please consider an alternate thought to you conspiratorial rant above and know that the staff and council of the great city of Santee and working hard to make sure that if this project does get a final EIR certification and subsequent tentative approval from the San Diego city Council, that the damage to the citizens of Santee will be mitigated to the fullest possible extent. Things like the size of the project and walking/mountain bike trails and open space will all still need to be considered and implemented before I could agree to stop fighting the project. Rob McNelis
Cali Linfor March 26, 2011 at 02:12 AM
Yesterday, a flyer for the meeting was posted on my door. I am writing to give thanks to the persons who drew this issue to my attention. I, of course, noted that the date for the meeting had already passed. There has been a wonderful discussion here of the history of this project and the cons. As my home looks up from Pebble Beach Drive into the area, I have a personal reluctance to my view being obscured but I am more concerned by the traffic and environmental issues. All of the arguments posted here about the common sense of the plans (or lack there of) and other arguments against are compelling. What is the other side of the issue? I would assume an increase in a tax base (or an off setting of costs) and a larger population which would spend income in Santee. I can see the need to try to control the space through an Annex to Santee. Who owns the property now exactly? Padre Homes? Mayor Vopel comments on the Fanita Ranch bid about the environmentalist ability to raise funds to the preserve that open space seem to indicate a position that is pro development. I look forward to your thoughts.
Gloria Gerak March 26, 2011 at 02:22 AM
you need to put your comments into the official record 1) Officially input a comment to the SD Development Services Department regarding this project, by Monday March 28, 2011 you must either mail it to Martha Blake, Senior Planner, City of San Diego Development Services Center, 1222 First Avenue, MS 501, San Diego, CA 92101, or email the comment to DSDEAS@sandiego.gov, referencing Project #10046 in the subject line.
Cali Linfor March 26, 2011 at 02:40 AM
I just finished composing and submitting my comments via email .
Skip Shaputnic March 29, 2011 at 08:15 PM
The proposed Castlerock 430 residential unit development would negatively impact the decades old habitat corridor between Mission Trails Regional Park and Sycamore Canyon Preserve which includes part of the historic Stowe trail. It serves as a connector between inland valleys and the mountains, as well as a longstanding trail network for outdoor enthusiasts. Although the project calls for the inclusion of a pedestrian "trail" any developer-graded decomposed granite 4 foot wide path is virtually worthless for recreation, except for perhaps walking the dog. In considering whether to approve a project such as this, the City of San Diego Development Services should take into account the fact that more homes bring more trail users. When acres and miles of trails are bulldozed, the users of those trails must find someplace else to go. It's imperative to factor this in--where will trail users gain that lost mileage elsewhere? If this development is approved at the very least it should be required that the existing historic Stowe trail must be maintained.

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