Brakes Put on Miramar Ranch North Development

Times Staff Writer

Concern over more traffic, higher building densities and overcrowded schools has led the San Diego City Council to reject a sweeping proposal to add 1,700 homes and other housing units to Miramar Ranch North, located north of Scripps Ranch.

But life was pumped back into the proposal several hours later Tuesday when the City Council, at the urging of the developers and some council members, voted to reconsider the proposal at a future, unspecified date.

The council's action was part of a bewildering series of intertwined land-use votes involving Miramar Ranch North and Scripps Ranch, one of the fastest-growing areas in San Diego, characterized by severely overcrowded schools and burgeoning traffic, particularly along Interstate 15, the main freeway through the area.

In rejecting what were technically amendments to the Miramar Ranch North Community Plan--the building blueprint for the 1,950-acre area--a five-member majority of the City Council said it was worried about housing densities increasing by 42%, leading to further demands on already impacted roads and schools, and the extensive use of grading along some of the ridges of the rolling hillside country.

"There's no justification to me for a 42% density increase since 1980 (when the community plan was first adopted) . . . other than the land (has) changed hands," said Councilman Mike Gotch.

The rejection caught the developers by surprise.

During the three years that BCE Developers Inc., a joint venture partnership involving Bell Corp. of Canada and Great American Development Co., has worked on the project, it had encountered relatively little opposition. The Miramar Ranch North community planning group, for example, had recommended approval of amendments, as had the city Planning Commission, though the city Planning Department had not, principally because of worries about traffic congestion on Interstate 15.

William Rick, whose Rick Engineering Co. represented the developers, along with San Diego attorney Louis Wolfsheimer, acknowledged that traffic will continue to be heavy on Interstate 15, but said the development would provide the Miramar Ranch North/Scripps Ranch area with badly needed facilities, such as schools and roads, that otherwise might not be constructed for several more years.

Councilman Ed Struiksma, who represents the area, thought he had helped fashion a compromise through a complex series of last-minute amendments that would have required the developers to, among other things, pay for the construction of two new elementary schools and help in the construction of a major realignment of Pomerado Road to Spring Canyon Road before any development.

"Not by any stretch of the imagination is this an ideal situation," Struiksma said, explaining that to do nothing was worse. Struiksma and others said both Miramar Ranch North and Scripps Ranch are under pressure from the adjacent city of Poway, which is in the initial stages of developing a large industrial park next to the San Diego boundary line.

The fear is that traffic to and from the industrial park and the rest of Poway seeking to reach Interstate 15 will inundate the area.

"Poway has pointed a shotgun at the head of Scripps Ranch," Struiksma said in an interview.

After the 4-to-5 vote squelching the proposed changes in the Miramar Ranch North Community Plan, the City Council adjourned for lunch. But on its return, attorney Wolfsheimer asked the council to reconsider its vote so that the developer wouldn't be forced to start again at "ground zero."

"We have so much time invested in this . . . allow us to restudy this thing," Wolfsheimer said.

Other council members, such as Mayor Maureen O'Connor and Judy McCarty, who had voted to reject the proposal, said that if residents in the audience wanted to more closely analyze the project, in particular the last-minute amendments submitted by Struiksma, they would support reconsidering the project.

Following a five-minute break, during which about 50 to 60 Miramar Ranch North/Scripps Ranch residents at the meeting huddled informally and agreed to restudy the proposal, the City Council on a 8-1 vote, with Gotch in opposition, agreed to reconsider its action after the developer and the residents have met to discuss the plan. The first meeting is set for next Tuesday.

Despite the reconsideration, O'Connor said it will be very difficult for her in the end to change her vote. "I can't support the development . . . I have real doubts about the density," she said.

In a closely related matter, the City Council approved the realignment of Pomerado Road from where it enters the city from Poway, through Spring Canyon Road to Interstate 15.

The City of Poway had wanted the city to adopt an alignment for a new and more direct road that would have cut across ridges and canyons westward to Interstate 15. The San Diego city manager's office, however, said such a road would probably cause environmental damage and cost about $27 million, which the city doesn't have.

The realignment of Pomerado Road approved by the council, however, is dependent on $2.1 million from BCE Developers Inc. But without the City Council approving the changes to the Miramar Ranch North Community Plan that the developers are asking for, that money will not be forthcoming and the realignment would not occur.

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