SB Planning Commission Overrides Protest Of Highland Hills Project OK

The San Bernardino Planning Commission has affirmed  city staff approval of the “Highland Hills” development just north of Highland Avenue, east of Highway 330 near San Bernardino’s border with Highland. The project, which was originally approved as a 1,516 unit project 33 years ago, has now been reduced to 695 dwelling units.
The protests of the city of Highland and Highland residents to the intensity of the development project as it was originally envisioned led to modifications in the plan which were codified in a settlement agreement signed in July 1989. The project remained dormant for 25 years, until it was resurrected last year.
A specific plan and environmental impact report for the 1,516-unit project, which included multi-family units and a golf course, was adopted by the San Bernardino City Council in 1982. In 1988, a group of Highland residents challenged the project, leading to the aforementioned compromise on the project being worked out in 1989. Development was not actuated at that time and in April 2001, a second amendment to the agreement was filed.
The project was not initiated then  either, and a change of ownership occurred, with the property now in the possession of American Title.  American Title last year joined forces with RSA, a developer, to begin work.
At that point, Jim Nunn, one of the Highland residents who had forged the 1989 agreement with the project proponents, took issue with the newly formulated development plan. He disputed that the changes made to the current development plan constituted “minor modifications” to the earlier accepted plans. In particular, Nunn expressed the belief that eliminating the golf course from the development plan constituted a significant change over what had been earlier proposed, necessitating a new environmental impact report. Moreover, Nunn requested that San Bernardino hold off on approving the project until after it is out of bankruptcy, which it entered into in 2012. Nunn reasoned that Highland Hills, which is isolated from the rest of San Bernardino, has infrastructure and service needs that might get short shrift given the city’s current financial state.
After a delay of 33 years, however, San Bernardino city officials appear anxious to move the project ahead.
On April 15 the matter came before the San Bernardino Planning Commission as the reconsideration of a previous appeal by Nunn and a group known as Highland Hills Homeowners.
Based on his ministerial authority, San Bernardino Community Development Director Mark Persico in August 2014 approved the modifications to the project, which included a 54 percent reduction of the number of dwelling units  from 1,516 to 695, resulting in eliminating all multi-family (i.e., apartment complexes) elements as well as housing deemed “affordable,” removing  the golf course, preserving 65 percent of the property as “open space,” providing for new flood control elements to serve Cook Canyon, dispensing with a corner gas station and market, and encircling the project area with a multiuse trail.   At the April 15 meeting, former Highland City Councilman Dennis Johnson, together with Highland residents Denise Dvorak, Steven Purper, Susan Hodges, Donita Remington, Debbie Carter, Shellrae Hoehn, Marlene Davis, Sesario Perez, Gary Lee, Ann Strawn, Glenn Drewes, and David Hoehn spoke in opposition to the project.
Persico dismissed the gist of their arguments, which essentially boiled down to the contention that the project changes he characterized as minor modifications were in fact significant alterations that should have required another environmental impact report and a new hearing.
Persico said, “The modifications which are requested by RSA shall be deemed to be minor if they are equal to or less intense from the standpoint of environmental impacts.”
Former Highland City Councilman Johnson intimated that he believed there was a “hidden agenda” to the city of San Bernardino’s action.
Commissioner Andrew Machen made a motion to reverse the December 30, 2014 decision of the community development director approving the project and uphold the appeal. That died for a lack of a second.
Vice-chairman Lance Durr then made a motion to uphold the decision of approval. He, chairman Larry Heasley and commissioners Jim Eble, Amelia Lopez and Michael Thomas voted in the affirmative. Machen voted against the motion and commissioner Scott Wyatt abstained. Both Kent Paxton and Casey Dailey recused themselves from voting because of the proximity of their residences to the project.  In the immediate aftermath of the vote for approval, the appellants indicated they might appeal the decision to the next level, i.e., the San Bernardino City Council.

Leave a Reply