Apple Valley Housing Subdivision Approval Delayed

The Apple Valley Town Council has put off until November 14 a decision on whether it will accede to Mark Maida’s proposal to convert 120 acres of property currently zoned under the town’s residential agriculture designation by which the property cannot be subdivided into anything smaller than two-and-a-half acre lots to estate residential zoning to allow him to construct 99 homes on the property.
Because Councilman Curt Emick was not present at its Tuesday, October 24 meeting, his colleagues opted to wait until he can participate in the land use decision, which will require, if Maida’s proposal is to fly, the granting of not only a zone change but a general plan amendment and another amendment to the town’s development code.
Apple Valley is famously known for insisting on half-acre minimum lots for its single-family residences, a policy which has prevented it from being caught up in the development frenzy that has beset many other county cities in the 35 years since Apple Valley incorporated in 1988.
At present, Apple Valley stands at 73.5 square miles, making it San Bernardino County’s second largest municipality geographically, two-tenths of a square mile smaller than Victorville, at 73.7 square miles the county’s largest city, and three-tenths of a square mile larger than Hesperia, at 73.2 square miles the county’s third largest city. Population-wise, however, Victorville with its 138,399 residents and Hesperia with 102,531 living within its confines, are significantly more densely packed with people than Apple Valley, which has a head count of 76,817.
In Apple Valley, since its 1988 incorporation, the only residential units permitted with a greater density than two units per acre are multi-family developments, i.e., apartments, and a very limited number of homes that were approved for construction during the 11-month window following Patrick Jacobo’s December 1998 swearing-in following his election to the town council the previous month. Jacobo joined David Holman and Barbara Loux, who had both been elected in November 1996, on the town council dais. At that point, Holman, Loux and Jacobo, all of whom had ties to the development community, formed a three-member ruling coalition on the council and were able to politically outmuscle their two council colleagues, Mark Shoup and Bob Sagona, in a push to reduce the town’s standards to allow four residential units to the acre as a prelude to even further density concessions. A counterreaction among town residents ensued, resulting in a committee qualifying a recall election against the troika for the November 1999 ballot. All three recall efforts succeeded. Placed on the same ballot was Measure N, which mandated that until December 31, 2020, the “existing rural atmosphere and equestrian lifestyle” of Apple Valley would be respected by requiring a vote of the people on any amendment to the single-family residential element of the town’s general plan, thus safeguarding Apple Valley’s tradition of half-acre lots. Measure N also passed.
While the half-acre lots are the smallest properties upon which single-family homes can be constructed in Apple Valley, under the town’s development and zoning codes, those properties that were formerly or remain agricultural or equestrian in nature which have been opened up as eligible for development bear the residential agricultural designation, such that their intended density is, as previously indicated, one home per 2.5 acres.
Maida, who has tied up the 120 acres south of Gupan Road, north of Del Oro Road, west of Savage Lane and east of Deep Creek Road, is seeking to take advantage of the State of California’s housing mandates imposed upon local jurisdictions in developing a project there dubbed Deep Creek Estates.
Under the auspices of Government Code §65580, each municipality in the state is required to assist in alleviating the state’s homelessness crisis by complying with what the California Department of Housing and Community Development deems to be each city’s housing responsibility.
Under this so-called Regional Housing Needs Allocation process, San Bernardino County must accommodate the construction of 138,110 new homes between the end of 2021 and the end of 2028. According to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, Apple Valley’s share of that burden is 4,280 housing units.
Maida and his project co-applicant, Tom Steeno of Steeno Design Studio, are proposing that the town deviate upward from the 48 units that would be permitted on the property per the residential agricultural zoning to a designation of estate residential, which would permit lot sizes of .75 acres and larger.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Larry Cusack recused himself from participating in any decision relating to the project because he has taken money from the deep-pocketed Maida. Cusack’s recusal reflected a similar abstention by Planning Commissioner David North last month when the panel of which he is a member considered the project. North is, in some fashion that has not been disclosed, professionally associated with Maida.
With Emick absent, that would have left a determination in the hands of Mayor Scott Nassif, Councilwoman Kari Leon and Councilman Art Bishop, comprising a bare quorum.
On September 6, with Vice-Chairman Bruce Kallen and commissioners Bob Tinsley and Mike Arias, Jr. prevailing and Chairman Jarrod Lanyon dissenting, a 3-to-1 majority of the planning commission recommended that the city council adopt the zone change, general plan amendment and amendment to the town’s development code to approve the 99-home tentative tract map for what Maida and Steeno say will be a gated community.
The size of the lots and the homes to be built on them would vary. The lots would range from .75 to 1.22 acres, such that the lots on the 120 acres would average, when open space is included, just slightly over 1.2121 acres. Other improvements beside streets would include two parks, one of which would also involve a retention basin. That park would cover 2.93 acres. Presumably, access to that park will only be accessible by Deep Creek Estates residents. The other park, on grounds of 2.52 acres, would be a community park which the public at large would have access to. An equestrian trail to be included as part of the development would be contained within the confines of Deep Creek Estates rather than around the development’s periphery.
Under the Apple Valley General Plan’s land use designation, the property is eligible to be developed residentially and the residential agricultural designation calls for minimum 2½-acres lots. Without any amendments, subdivisions within the Deep Creek area would generally be required to consist of lot sizes of at least 2½ acres. Policy 4.G of the general plan requires new subdivisions to have perimeter lot sizes of the same size or larger than adjacent land use designations or the land across the abutting street. Policy 4.H states that a general plan amendment could only increase the density to the next densest land use designation. Thus, as it now stands, Policy 4.G would restrict a general plan amendment from the 2½ acre minimum to a one 1 acre minimum. In applying both Policies 4.G and 4.H, a general plan amendment would require lots of no less than one acre, with all perimeter lots consisting of a minimum of 2½ acres. The property itself is designated as 2½ minimum lot size low density residential while the property to the north is designated for mixed use; the property to the south is designated 2½ acre minimum lot size low density residential; the property to the east is designated 2½ acre minimum lot size low density residential; and the property to the west is designated 2½ acre minimum lot size low density residential.
Of the nine comment letters relating to the project from the public received by the planning commission prior to the September meeting/public hearing on the project proposal, six were in opposition to the proposal and three were in favor of the development. During the planning commission public hearing, there were a total of 21 speakers, 14 of whom spoke in opposition to the development and seven who spoke in favor of the development. Generally, the reasons cited by members of the public for opposing the project included a desire to protect the agricultural land and requesting that proposed housing development occur in other areas. Members of the public cited concerns with the environment, water quality, traffic, as well as concerns with biological and tribal resources. One resident cited concerns with growth without having needed medical services in the area. Reasons cited by the public to support the proposal included the need for quality housing and the perception that Maida and Steeno were seeking to develop responsibly, and the project would prove to be of high quality. The point was made that the town should allow the project to proceed before the State of California and its Department of Housing intervene and force the town to accept higher densities to the area.
The council will again take up consideration of the project on November 14.
-Mark Gutglueck

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