Carmel Valley planning board objects to building homes in open space


The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board approved the new Lighthouse Ridge housing development with the condition that two of the proposed 10 homes are deleted as the board believes the lots are in designated open space land. The board has been looking into the complicated development issue since October 2017, when they found out that the project’s engineering firm Latitude 33 successfully challenged the Official Zoning Map for Carmel Valley to move the open space line as they believed there had been an error.

“I do not feel there was an error in the city map,” said CV Planning Board Chair Frisco White, who crafted a motion to support the project without the two homes. The project will next move on to the San Diego Planning Commission.

The Lighthouse Ridge development is planned on a vacant lot at the end of Lighthouse Way in the neighborhood behind Congregation Beth Am. Neighbors have shared concerns about the impacts of building the new homes on the “steep” canyon slope above Chelterham Terrace. One resident said when she purchased her home she expected the slope to remain open space, “There was no way we ever could’ve seen someone building there as steep as it is.”

“It simply strains credulity that a project such as the one proposed for Lighthouse Ridge can be permitted within the existing North City West Development Plan for Unit 4A,” wrote neighbor Jose Lau in a letter to Latitude 33. “The proposed development’s eastern portion intends to destroy what I and my neighbors perceive to be undisturbed, open space Canyonlands, and build up with fill the existing ground level by thirty feet.”

Melissa Krause, associate principal at Latitude 33, said they believed there was a “clear error” in the open space map and challenged the Official Zoning Map in June 2017—the city’s Development Services Department (DSD) made the findings to move the open space boundary. At the planning board’s October 2017 meeting, members were surprised that a zoning map change can be simply administerial if an error is identified.

White questioned city staff about the process and the findings.

“The open space map was changed on the premise that part of the area was previously disturbed; therefore it couldn’t be open space. This doesn’t make sense as disturbed land can be restored,” White stated in an email to city staff. “Shouldn’t the open space designation be independent of the state of the land?”

The city stood by its changes and, according to DSD project manager Glenn Gargas, the map change was a result of staff research that included not only review of the zoning land use maps and a site visit, but also “review of various aerial photos, prior or as built grading permits, and geology reports for any test results or other indications of past disturbance on the subject site.”

Robert Vacchi, director of DSD, indicated in a November email that the zoning map correction was due to a discrepancy between the land use designation and the city’s Official Zoning Map. He stated that the North City West Planned Development Unit 4-A takes precedence over the zoning map and an error occurred during the transfer from the 4-A document to the official map with the open space spilling onto the mesa, covering single-family lots and a slightly larger portion off Lighthouse Way.

Lighthouse Ridge property owner Terry Johnson said if you stuck with the original open space line, a lot of homes wouldn’t be there because it was drawn in error. “There are over 100 houses in the open space,” he said.

White did not agree that there was an error. He said the comparison with the Official Zoning Map and the 4A map concludes that the map “clearly and accurately transferred the intent to protrude into the area occupied by lots 9 and 10 in the Lighthouse Ridge plan.”

Board member Ken Farinsky disagreed with the developer’s argument that “There were a lot of errors so we should be allowed more errors.”

“The city is pushing forward a strange interpretation of mapping,” Farinsky said. “I think they are building in open space and I think we should deny the project based on the fact that two lots are in open space.”

Rather than approve with conditions, Farinsky said they should deny the project, noting that the Planning Commission would take the board’s conditional approval as a “yes” and that the two lots would likely get built anyway. Farinsky made a motion to deny but it did not carry with a split 4-4 vote—Shreya Sasaki, Stella Rogers and Debbie Lokanc joined him in voting to deny while Vic Wintress, Annie Glenn, Barry Schultz and White voted against the project denial.

“I’m not as cynical about what happens to our motion or recommendation at the Planning Commission,” said Schultz explaining his vote against the project denial. “The project is not a problem, It’s just the two lots.”

Johnson said he remains excited about the Lighthouse Ridge project and thinks it will bring value to the community.

“We have done everything in our power to try and work with the neighbors,” said Johnson, noting they have lowered the walls, re-oriented the houses, reduced the slope and added additional landscaping to the slope to lessen the visual impact. They have also talked to the city about creating a new trail connection to Gonzales Canyon. “We feel like we have done everything we can do to make it consistent with the neighborhood.”