Last week, several residents were surprised to receive a letter from the Department Of Planning and Land Use (DPLU), dated 12 July 2012, regarding a familiar neighboring property. According to the letter, owners of the parcel at 3131 Rudnick Drive, Osman and Lillian Tatar, plan a horse farm on the site of the former Rancho El Coyote. (County records show the property owner as Norma L. Tatar, but Osman and Lillian are listed as permit applicants.)
What could be more at home in sleepy, peaceful Lawson Valley than a horse farm? Well, a lot as it turns out. There are horse farms (properties with several horses owned for personal use), and then there are Horse Farms: large-scale breeding and training facilities designed to turn a profit.
According to the DPLU's "Notice of Proposed Administrative Permit Application," the Tatars have requested a permit for an "oversized structure," encompassing horse stables, an indoor arena, and living quarters.
So how oversized is it? Current zoning ordinance limits an accessory building on a property of this size to 5,000 square feet. The Tatars' request: 44,013 square feet. To put this area into perspective, it's approximately the size of a Best Buy store (before they began downsizing) or the Ralphs in the Rancho San Diego Town and Country Center. No other structure in the vicinity even comes close.
And that's just the main structure. Also planned is a detached storage building of 2,800 square feet. These structures are in addition to the existing residence of 3,121 square feet and as well as current outbuildings. An outdoor arena is also in the works.
The Tatars claim that all of this construction is for the benefit of their teenage daughter, a competitive equestrian who owns 22 horses, and so when a roadside sign announced an "Open House" at the property, several local residents attended to welcome a new neighbor and to have their concerns about the project addressed (as promised by the signs).
What they learned is that the Tatars have not been and would not be in residence. Instead, a company, Lawson Creek Farms, LCC, would be headquartered there. It seems that the property is to be a place of business only and was never intended to be the Tatars' home. While the project will no doubt serve the daughter's needs, the design appears to be a large-scale horse breeding and training enterprise.
Incidentally, records indicate that the Tatars also own another company, Novi Industries, Inc. While the relationship between that corporation and Lawson Creek Farms, LCC is unclear, they share the same Spring Valley address for agent for service of process.While state records locate the business address of Novi Industries, Inc. in Texas, they show 3131 Rudnick as the official address of Lawson Creek Farms, LCC, again underscoring the property's status as a business.
Appropriately enough, the open house guests were greeted not by the Tatars but by Anne D. Judd, the horse trainer living on the Rudnick property. Also on hand to address questions were structural designer Ralph Tavares and civil engineer James Draper. (Lillian Tatar and her daughter also attended, but questions were referred to Judd, Tavares, and Draper.) Unfortunately, these company representatives were not able to answer many questions and those that were answered only increased concerns. They confirmed the size of the 44,013 square foot facility, including a 36-stall stable, indoor arena, and two-story centerpiece with upper level apartment. These facilities, as well as the 2,800 square foot storage building, will be sited at the front of the property near the main road.
According to Section 7358a, an administrative permit may be granted only provided
That the location, size, design and operating characteristics of the proposed use will be compatible with adjacent uses, residents, buildings or structures with consideration given to:
1. harmony in scale, bulk, coverage and density,
2. the availability of public services,
3. the harmful effect, if any, upon desirable neighborhood character,
4. the suitability of the site for the type and intensity of use or development which is proposed and
5. any other relevant impact of the proposed use.
The project proposed for 3131 Rudnick Drive fails to meet these criteria. As a result, neighbors have requested that DPLU schedule a public hearing on the matter. In the meantime, the issue is on the August 28, 2012 Jamul/Dulzura Planning Group Agenda.
Some of the concerns to date:
Water is a major issue, as many residents have suffered from diminished rates and/or have had their wells go dry. This parcel is known to have such issues. There are two wells on the property, the second one drilled after the first failed. Prior owners have admitted that the second well was not as productive as they had hoped. Ms. Judd and Mr. Draper confessed to being ignorant as to the gal/min rate for the working well, saying no testing had been done.
Nevertheless, the company plans irrigated pastures, and in addition to the many gallons of water horses drink a day, show horses must be frequently bathed. The water use for this project appears to be above and beyond normal residential use and certainly unsupportable by the scant natural resources available.
As locals will attest, Lawson Valley Road is a winding, narrow mountainous road and has many points along the route with poor visibility due to hairpin turns. This road is the only access road available to residents. When large vehicles come around a bend such as a bus or truck, oncoming traffic must often stop in the road to allow the larger vehicle to pass. At night, the road is dark.
Much of Rudnick Drive, where the property is situated, is unpaved and poorly maintained, with numerous and dangerous ruts. Brush also encroaches on the road, causing it to narrow further at points. Residents who walk their dogs or ride their horses on that road are vigilant since many vehicles traveling that road drive at unsafe speeds on loose decomposed granite while attempting to circumnavigate the ruts. On this already marginal road, Lawson Creek Farms, LLC may increase traffic, particularly in the form of multiple horse trailers, hay trucks, etc.
Given the singular access point described above and its limitations, any attempt by Lawson Creek Farms, LCC to evacuate 36 show horses could result in road congestion at a very inconvenient time. When asked what the company’s plan was for evacuating 36 horses in the event of a fire, Ms. Judd responded that in an emergency they would acquire two 15-horse trailers. (A 15-horse trailer is a minimum of 48 feet long, 13 feet high, and 102 inches wide, requiring a tractor-trailer style truck such as a Peterbilt to haul it.) In order to fully evacuate Lawson Creek Farms’ projected 36 horses, there would have to be multiple trailers or multiple trips on the road.
A lot of horses require a lot of hay. Hay is known to spontaneously combust due to a number of factors and is an ever present danger (http://www.psla.umd.edu/extension/publications/haycombustionp1c.pdf). Due to the water issues on the property, the limited access and the distance the fire department must travel on an unimproved road to respond, as well as the tinder conditions of miles of surrounding brush, a hay fire at this address could prove devastating to the community.
MANURE MANAGEMENT AND NITRATES
The water supply in Lawson Valley is restricted to private wells, vulnerable to contaminates, such as nitrates. In other communities where a horse ranch has been in operation, this kind of contamination has been an issue due to the copious animal manure and fertilizers used in the pastures.
Lawson Valley is a rural community, and residents who call it home enjoy living where the sidewalk ends. The farming aspect of this little community--whether having chickens, trading between neighbors of home garden produce, or enjoying an evening horseback ride--is part of the fabric of Lawson Valley. Locals admire the independence and pluck of those neighbors who have a home business and are successful. However, they make a distinction between the small, home-based business of a neighbor and a company that buys up property to use strictly as a business without regard as to the suitability of the property for such a venture or even the interest of its neighbors. The influx of such a business would irrevocably and forever change the complexion of Lawson Valley and sets a dangerous precedent for surrounding communities.
Please let your voice be heard at the Jamul/Dulzura Planning Group meeting on Tuesday, 28 August 2012 at Olive Vista Middle School Library - 7:30 PM.
And stay tuned for news on the DPLU public hearing regarding this issue.