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New Tourist Mecca? : Tiny Jamul Is Feeling Heady About Plans for Luxury Golf Resort

Times Staff Writer

The prospect baffles Jamul real estate broker Ken Rupe: that in a couple of years, tourists from New York, Chicago or Detroit--or even Los Angeles--might seek out Jamul, of all places, for a resort-style golf vacation.

C’mon. Jamul? La Costa, maybe, or Mission Bay. But Jamul?

“We’re on a two-lane highway that doesn’t go anywhere. If you’re up to your kazoo in snow, are you going to want to come back to some laid-back, redneck community like ours?” he asks. “Heck, you’ll want to be along the coast. We don’t even have a bar that stays open past 10. We watch the grass grow for excitement. Who’d want to come to Jamul for a vacation?”

Luxury Resort Planned

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Rupe’s skewed sense of local boosterism notwithstanding, the Ohio-based Stouffer Hotel Co. has announced plans to build a 425-room luxury resort hotel and an 18-hole golf course in uptown Jamul, a couple of blocks west of downtown Jamul, some 23 miles southeast of downtown San Diego.

The development has been quietly planned for more than 5 years--even overlapping the controversial proposal to build the Honey Springs residential and commercial development 5 miles east of Jamul.

The Honey Springs plan was approved by the county Board of Supervisors in 1982 but challenged by opponents as leapfrog urban development. It called for 2,000 acres of agricultural preserve to be taken out of that status and be developed instead with commercial uses and 400 homes, clustered on 600 acres with the balance held in open space.

A 2-year-long environmental, political and courtroom debate over Honey Springs finally culminated in 1984 with the state Supreme Court upholding a lower court ruling, and thus quashing the development on the grounds that the agricultural preserve should not have been dissolved to allow for the project.

In the Works

All the while, others were planning their own project closer to the center of Jamul, population 7,800. Led by attorney Peter Aylward, who lives in the area, a group of investors acquired the necessary property. In 1983, they won approval from the Board of Supervisors for a new specific plan that called for a 315-acre resort-conference center intended to attract business executives for weeklong work-play retreats. It would be surrounded by about 170 estate-size residential lots spread out over nearly 400 acres of adjoining hillsides.

So as Honey Springs was being attacked on environmental and legal grounds, plans for Las Montanas Estates and the adjacent Las Montanas Resort hotel-and-golf project were moving forward with nary a whimper of opposition, first winning the blessing of the Jamul Planning Group and ultimately endorsed by county supervisors.

Even Gerald Petrone, who sat on the advisory planning group and was one of the leading opponents of the Honey Springs project, voted to support the Las Montanas proposal.

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“It seemed to be a land use that was compatible with the area. There wasn’t any opposition to it because it didn’t call for dense housing or an overburdening of schools or other public services that denser housing projects like Honey Springs would have created,” Petrone said. “Honey Springs stuck out like a sore thumb in the middle of large tracts of empty acreage. This one didn’t have that problem.”

Last Major Hurdle

A specific plan for the project was approved in 1983 and adopted in 1986, and now the last remaining major hurdle for the project is receipt of a major use permit, which can be granted simply by the county’s Planning and Environmental Review Board (PERB)--a collection of county staff members. The project would only go to the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors if PERB’s decision is appealed.

An environmental impact report is now open for public review on the project, which will slope downward in both directions from a ridgeline that runs between, and parallel to, Jamul Drive and California 94, west of Lyons Valley Road. Part of the project will spill over onto the south side of California 94.

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While there is some general concern that the project will generate too much traffic on the two thoroughfares through Jamul, there is no organized or strong opposition to the resort project.

“The word is still getting out that Stouffer bought the project, and we may hear protests as the word spreads,” said Marcia Spurgeon, a member of the local school board.

“But this project is apples-and-oranges (as a comparison) to Honey Springs. And the Las Montanas people have done some things right that the Honey Springs people didn’t--like meeting with neighbors first and discussing the plan. They showed greater insight in how to work with the community.”

Will ‘Fit in’

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Might the project alter the complexion of Jamul from one of a back-country town to a destination golf resort?

“It will absolutely fit in and be compatible,” Spurgeon said. “I really don’t think we’re looking at thousands of tourists walking down the streets of Jamul looking for tourist attractions. Stouffer is talking more about corporations bringing in top management. It will be more of a retreat center, and Jamul is a great place for that since we’ve got California sunshine and countryside,” she said.

Said Kathy Frasca, president of the Jamul Planning Group: “We welcome the opportunity to work with Stouffer. It looks like it’s going to be a top-class development, and we’re hoping it will offer employment opportunities to our community,” where currently the largest single employers are the local school district, a grocery store and a nursery.

Frasca said that, unlike the Honey Springs project east of Jamul, the Las Montanas development is more palatable because “it is following the outwardly flow of growth” from El Cajon and Rancho San Diego, which lie directly northwest. Furthermore, and unlike Honey Springs, which would have had to rely on ground water and its own sewage treatment plant, the hotel project will be served by the Otay Municipal Water District.

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“This doesn’t appear to be the kind of project that will get much opposition by Jamul residents,” she said. “There are some concerns about traffic impact; it looks like overall it will be good for the community. There are still details to work out, but they’ve been very cooperative.”

Said Frasca: “We’re not against growth, as long as it is reasonable and progressive. That’s what separates this project from Honey Springs.”

Welcome Addition?

Others in town, like Jamul Liquor Store manager Don Payne, say they are excited by the prospect of a resort in their berg. “It’ll bring a lot to our economy and produce some jobs,” he said. “Of course, some people don’t want any development at all. You’ll find them in any community. But with all the people moving into Southern California, we’re going to have to grow. And as long as it’s a nice development like this one, it can be a real enhancement to Jamul.”

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Stouffer Hotel Co. entered the project about 9 months ago, after Aylward’s group already had secured the necessary government approvals to get the project this far, said Jim Grafmeyer, director of business development for Stouffer.

He said he is confident that the $87-million golf resort will draw business to Jamul, despite its location in East County.

“If you look up and down the (Southern California) coast, there are only two or three high-end golf resorts, like La Costa,” Grafmeyer said. “You’ve also got Rancho Bernardo and Laguna Niguel, but not much else.”

Stouffer hopes to begin actual site preparation within 12 months, and for the hotel to be completed by the fall of 1990.

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Stouffer owns or operates 31 resorts and hotels in the United States and the Caribbean. It will open a $90-million, 560-room resort in Indian Wells, near Palm Springs, early next year.

The adjoining Las Montanas Estates residential development will feature custom homes built on 1-acre and larger lots, said project manager Carol Henderson. She said the developer will sell the first 57 lots in 1989, and the remaining 113 beginning in 1991. The developer himself will not construct the individual homes, she said.


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