Supervisors reject proposed Merriam Mountain development


City News Service

The Board of Supervisors on Wednesday narrowly rejected a proposed 2,632-unit housing development in the North County near Bonsall, after an hours-long debate that pitted area residents against business interests.

The Merriam Mountains project would have been located west of Interstate 15 across from Lawrence Welk Village, adjacent to Deer Springs Road.

The proposal failed on a 2-2 vote last December following a daylong session missed by Supervisor Ron Roberts, who was in Sacramento.

Roberts asked for reconsideration of the proposal when he returned, but Wednesday ended up voting against Merriam Mountains, for a 3-2 final margin. Supervisors Greg Cox and Bill Horn, the chief supporter of the project on the board, were the two who cast votes in favor.

Before the debate began, Horn said he was advised by the county counsel that he did not have to recuse himself, despite accusations that he had direct contact with developers, which is not allowed.

More than 100 residents of the area and business representatives addressed the supervisors at the meeting.

Residents from Twin Oaks Valley to Valley Center, including members of all of the area’s community planning groups, contended the project would create additional traffic, noise and fire hazards. They said the development also went against the county’s aging general plan.

Business representatives cited the project’s ability to generate jobs in a poor economy.

“I’m concerned about jobs,” Roberts said. “I’ve spent most of my life in construction, so I understand the importance of construction jobs in the economy. But I’m not able today to support going ahead with this general plan amendment.”

He said the county has to update the general plan and get a handle on recent state environmental and global warming legislation.

Merriam Mountains, first proposed eight years ago, would have also included a large biological preserve, recreation facilities and commercial businesses.

“This is a beautiful project. It’s not the right place for it, but it is a beautiful project,” board Chairwoman Pam Slater-Price said.

The discussion before the supervisors was mostly polite, disguising what had been a heated issue in the rural North County. Several project opponents accused officials of valuing money over constituents and ignoring county policy.

Opponents were led by the Golden Door Spa, an upscale retreat off Deer Springs Road. The spa’s owners feared that eight to 10 years of construction would harm their business.

Rachel Caldwell, the spa’s general manager, reminded supervisors that a previous Merriam Mountains project was rejected years ago when it consisted of one-fifth the number of homes in the latest proposal.

The only changes since then “have all been negative,” Caldwell said.

Cox, as he did in December, warned that higher density projects in the future were inevitable because of population growth.

The construction plan called for widening of congested Deer Springs Road from two lanes to four. However, county planners said the roadway will soon need to be expanded to six lanes near Interstate 15 to handle projected traffic in the future.