Yucaipa Gives 184-Unit Subdivision 4-1 Nod On Oak Covered Property At Wilson Creek

The Yucaipa City Council on July 11 approved a tentative tract map and environmental impact report for Meridian Land Development Company’ 184-dwelling unit Wilson Creek Estates project.
The project has undergone some alteration since it was originally proposed in 2013 as the 236-acre Casa Blanca Ranch development, which calls for construction on the north side of Oak Glen Road east of Jefferson Street.
According to a staff report pertaining to the project authored by Joseph Lanbert, Yucaipa’s director of development services, “An application was previously filed for the project that involved a general plan amendment and planned development application for a residential project of 240 single family dwellings. The design concept attempted to maintain existing drainage courses and areas with larger slopes as natural open space areas. The balance of the land would have been utilized for single family development in a clustered design concept. To achieve the cluster concept a general plan amendment and planned development was requested to allow a half acre lot size rather than utilize the existing one acre size. This concept was reviewed by the planning commission at a study session on December 18, 2013 and public comment was received. The planning commission expressed concerns that the half acre lot size was too small and expressed a desire to maintain one acre lots.”
The Casa Blanca Ranch project, which has since been relabeled and branded as Wilson Creek Estates, as it was tentatively approved triggered opposition from residents, open space conservancies and environmentalists, who registered protests over traffic circulation and “inadequate” traffic analysis; the compromising of the wildlife corridor; drought and parcel water drainage; flood plain concerns and drainage courses in the project; and the preservation of existing oak trees and the olive groves.
When the project was again considered by the planning commission on June 15, 2016, according to Lambert, “it was reiterated by several individual commissioners that the previous application had some positive aspects, such as the retention of dedicated open space. However, one or more commissioners still felt the smaller lot sizes were inappropriate. Ultimately, the planning commission, with Commissioner Vanessa Register dissenting, voted 6-1 to recommend to the council that the project be approved.
Jonathan Weldy, the president of Meridian Land Development presented the project on July 11. Weldy said an attempt to maintain the natural contour of the land would be made and that no “mass grading” would occur at the site. “The topography will be maintained,” he said. After Weldy’s introductory comments, a public hearing ensued in which an open debate over the advisability of allowing half-acre lots, which would provide for more open public rural space, versus requiring full acre lots, leaving less land for public open space. Residents who offered input were decidedly in favor of the rural one-acre lots, as designated in the current city zoning.
Lambert said the project is conditioned for a phased development based on piecemeal lot sales in which each individual owner will build to his or her own specifications. Lambert said Meridian would be required to put in all utilities, roads and sewer lines. Internal streets would be paved but no curbs and gutters and sidewalks would not be included in keeping with the rural character of the property. Individual homeowner would be responsible for development of each parcel and preparation of all required plans, payment of all applicable development impact fees and environmental compliance.
There was considerable sentiment that the environmental impact analysis for the project done by AECOM was inadequate. According to a staff report, a sufficient “number of technical studies undertaken in the evaluation of the proposed project” were completed, including an overview of flood hazards, “field infiltration tests,” a so-called “environmental site assessment and follow up” and an assessment of the oak trees on the property. According to the EIR, there are over one thousand existing oak trees on the project site, one coastal live oak, one canyon live oak and 1,075 Tucker’s oaks. Under the city’s oak protection ordinance, for every oak tree removed at the site, the developer would need to plant three-to five oak trees elsewhere.
Those opposed to the project said that AECOM had cut corners by relying on the developer’s 2012 biological report that was augmented with another study carried out by another firm ECORE, which was also done at the developer’s behest.
Some suggested that AECOM had failed to adequately assess whether there were biologically sensitive plants that would be displaced by the development
Dr. Tim Krantz, a University of Redlands environmental studies professor who is the executive director of the Crafton Hills Open Space Conservancy, said the development would interrupt the transit of wildlife between Yucaipa Ridge, Pisgah Peak and the Crafton Hills. Before he ran out of time, Krantz said that the project should be altered to provide a wildlife corridor for the migration of different species.
Resident Dena Hall said the environmental impact report did not adequately address the impact on the rivulets feeding Wilson Creek.
Richard Siegmund said the substandard nature of the streets in the project left an open question as to whether the city would take on potential liability by having them dedicated.
Councilman Dick Riddell said there was a need to do a more thorough job documenting the wildlife that would be impacted with the development and where that wildlife was located, and a wildlife corridor should be incorporated into the overall plan for the project.
“Our general plan stipulates that development codes should be in cooperation with the Yucaipa Conservancy, Wildlands Conservancy and the Crafton Hills Conservancy,” Riddell said. “None of these agencies were contacted.”
Lambert, in response to councilman Bobby Duncan’s inquiry, indicated that there was no strict mandate that a development project have the concurrence of the various conservancies to get approval.
Riddell was critical of the consideration that AECOM has failed to carry out its biological and ecological studies during all four seasons of the year before reporting its findings.
Duncan said he did not think the council should be second-guessing AECOM, which the city had hired to do its environmental assessment, and he suggested that Weldy and Meridian should be free to develop the property as they deemed fit, such that any entities wanting to keep it in its pristine state should purchase it. “I think the project is fine,” he said. I liked the first tentative tract map but the general public didn’t like it because all they saw was half-acre lots. The bottom line is this project is [permissible under] our general plan. We should approve the project the way it is.”
Councilman David Avila was somewhat equivocal in his support of the environmental impact report, at one point saying that it might need to be redone, but saying he found it acceptable. He said that if the environmental impact report deemed the project as pursuable, do did he. “I hate to see the applicant or anybody go through this again,” he said “There’s people out there that just don’t want that land developed and that’s unfair to the developer.”
Ultimately, councilman Greg Bogh and Mayor Denise Hoyt joined with Duncan and Avila, and the four voted to approve the project on one acre lots, with Riddell dissenting

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