Stonefield Withdraws 14-Year-Old Tentative Tract Map At County’s Southwest Corner

After an interminable 14-year delay in proceeding with its proposed 28-home housing development in Carbon Canyon, Coto de Caza-based Stonefield Development has given up on the project, which was originally approved by the Chino Hills City Council in 2009.
Stonefield, beginning in 2016, had requested and was granted multiple extensions on the undertaking, a subdivision covering 34.73 acres of vacant land northwest of Carbon Canyon Road and east of Fairway Drive, over the years. Previously, Chino Hills officials granted those extension requests and was once again this year set to grant the company another.
Since 2009, the traffic flow on Carbon Canyon Road has increased substantially. Recently, the California Department of Transportation, known by its acronym Caltrans, sought to impose a requirement that the developer do major improvements for the Fairway Drive/Carbon Canyon Road intersection. Among those improvements are either or both the addition of acceleration and deceleration lanes on Carbon Canyon Road and traffic signalization at the intersection. Stonefield appealed to the City of Chino Hills, asking that the city arrange to have the landowner and prospective developers of the property across Fairway Drive share in the cost of the intersection improvements. Stonefield’s project, at one unit per 1.24 acres, is a far less intense use of land than the 90 duplex units and 97 stacked flat units proposed by Lewis Management Corporation/Lewis Homes on the proximate 8.8 acres on the south portion of the Western Hills Golf Course.
While the city earlier this year was interceding with Lewis to contribute toward the improvements at the Carbon Canyon/Fairway Drive intersection but had not yet achieved any cost sharing commitment, Stonefield on March 24, 2023 sought a two-year extension of the 28-unit tentative tract map.
At its July 11 meeting, the city council considered Stonefield’s extension request, at which time conceptual discussion relating to potential changes in the intensity of the project, i.e., increasing the number of units to be built if the 28-unit tentative tract map were to elapse and Stonefield or some other entity were to make another application to develop that land, took place. In such a case, because the zoning specified in the Chino Hills General Plan allows for as many as 46 units on that property and the State of California has mandated that cities permit so-called accessory dwelling units to be built on property zoned for single-family residential use, the density on that property could more than double. Stonefield, at that time was amenable to working with the city in continuing to pursue the project as approved and to explore the traffic flow improvement options at the intersection, as long as the tentative tract map extension was granted. At the city attorney’s suggestion, the matter was continued until the September 12 meeting. On September 12, the matter was continued until the October 10 meeting.
In the meantime, Stonefield made an analysis of the issues involved, including the costs it would have to bear in terms of road and infrastructure improvements and the profit margin of the 28-unit project. During a September 22 meeting with city staff, Stonefield’s representatives expressed concerns about the added cost the company would have to bear by updating a traffic study relating to Carbon Canyon and designing and constructing improvements at the Carbon Canyon Road/Fairway Drive intersection.
On October 3, Bob Pack, the president of Stonefield, dashed off a letter to Chino Hills Director of Community Development Nicholas Liguori. Considering the current status of the housing market, the increases in construction costs and that Stonefield was being called upon to single-handedly at this point redress traffic issues at Carbon Canyon Road and Fairway Drive, Pack stated, “It was immediately apparent that the cost of Caltrans’ proposed improvement could not feasibly be borne by the approved 28-lot development. As a result of these events, Stonefield has taken a fresh look at its current project, the additional costs that would now be associated with the Caltrans improvement, and how the project would relate to the proposed apartments across Fairway Drive from both a traffic generation and marketability standpoint. Stonefield has concluded that the approved project is no longer financially feasible.”
Pack wrote, “Per our meeting on September 22, 2023, we are writing to confirm Stonefield’s intent to allow Tentative Tract Map 18393 to expire.”
There is sentiment within much of the Chino Hills community, driven by both aesthetic and practical considerations, that the undeveloped land in Carbon Canyon remain as it is. Many consider the natural landscape to be more visually pleasing than rows of homes. Additionally, development of further subdivisions will add traffic on the already overburdened Carbon Canyon Road, also known as State Route 142, which is a primary back channel linking San Bernadino County with Orange County. As a consequence, some residents, including ones on hand at the October 10 city council meeting, were relieved that Stonefield was withdrawing its development proposal.
Councilman Art Bennett, however, endeavored to inform them that their exaltation might be short-lived.
“Everybody knows that it’s the dollar that talks and the dollar that makes things happen,” Bennett said. “We’ve had developments in the City of Chino Hills that have just recently within the last couple of years been built that were approved under the county specific plan before cityhood. Developers get a zoning approval for a piece of property and then it’s a matter of when the economy so coordinates and lines up with what they can build and what they can charge for it. When the bottom line profit after the cost of development [manifests], that’s when they build. This one has been continually pushed off and at this point in time, with the Caltrans requirements to take care of the traffic issues, it just doesn’t make economic sense. So, they’re going to pull the process and pull the project. But it’s still zoned for 48 [dwelling units]. Just wake up, folks, and understand that 26 aren’t going to be built, but if somebody else comes back in and they can pencil it out even with the Caltrans requirements to mitigate the traffic issues, [if] they want to build units, it can happen. It’ll go through the process, and it will start all over again with the planning commission. We want to be totally transparent with you and say, ‘This may be a victory for us now because it’s not getting built,’ but I’m a real believer in people’s property rights, and if they have the development [i.e., zoning] there and they have the ability, they have a plan that says they can build up to that many, they can do it at some point in time. So, it may end up being worse later on. We just don’t know. That’ll have to go through all the public hearings and everything else.”
Previously, city staff had anticipated that when the requested tentative map extension would be voted upon by the council, it would be approved. Following Pack’s October 3 letter, the item that appeared on the October 10 agenda was redrafted to call for the council to reject the requested extension. The council voted-4-to-1, with Councilman Brian Johsz dissenting, to deny the extension of time.
-Mark Gutglueck

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