Sunday, September 9, 2012

Report on Jamul Dulzura Community Planning Group Meeting, 28 August 2012

First of all, let me apologize for the delay on this update. The meeting coincided with a very busy period in my day job; I plan to have other posts up in a more  timely manner.

I know that most readers are probably interested in the outcome of the Lawson Creek Farms, LLC issue. Thank you to those of you who showed up and/or wrote in. To those who couldn’t make the meeting for one reason or another, I encourage you to attend at some point. It’s essential for us as residents to become familiar with how decisions are made in our neck of the chaparral and to get a sense of our role in the outcome.

Here is the short version of the meeting’s outcome regarding Lawson Creek Farms: The project has been scaled back to 13,512 square feet. According to the Planning Group, the process is at least one and a half years out, and no final decision will be made until that time.

Before providing the long version, I’d like to mention a couple of other items that were on the agenda. Most of us know about the current bridge work on Lawson Valley Road just west of Montiel Truck Trail. According to project manager Jill Bankston, another bridge improvement is in the works, this time east of Sloan Canyon. The project will probably be presented to the Planning Group next year.

The second item was a cell tower planned for Skyline (I think—I still haven’t managed to identify the site). Adjacent residents had some concerns about noise (from the air-conditioning system necessary for the tower), possible health effects, and how construction crews would access the site.  According to Planning Group member Dan Kjonegaard, per the federal government “health is not an issue” with cell towers. Another key point is that the sound limit at a property line is 65 decibels (dB). That’s about the sound of a normal conversation from three feet away (like those annoying people at the table next to you at your favorite restaurant) or the volume of piano practice while you sit next to the pianist. In other words, not a big deal if you have to sit through it just for a dinner or visit with Aunt Sally. But 24/7? Something to think about.

At any rate, Lawson Creek Farms was of course the big draw, and several folks showed up to speak on it. First, though, were comments from Planning Group member Jean Strouf, who reported that the project had undergone a major downsizing and that applicants were waiting for community feedback before proceeding. In short, said Strouf, there would be no indoor arena, nor would there be pastures. The original plan of housing 32 horses had been reduced to 20. Concerns about water, rig size (necessary to transport that number of horses in an evacuation), fire and environment would be addressed.

Next up was Ralph Tavares, project architect. He said that changing the indoor arena (with a cover) to outdoor (without a cover) decreased the project size by 30,000 square feet. Tavares also said that the living quarters (in the second story of the large structure) had been removed.

Kjonegaard and Strouf went to the property to talk to trainer and resident Ann Judd. Kjonegaard pointed out several issues of which the owners, architect, engineer, and Judd were not aware:
·      Water: There are two wells on the property because the first didn’t produce. Kjonegaard suggests a hydrology study.
·      Storm water/ waste water drainage: Horse waste cannot be allowed to flow into the creek, so there should be a drain-off plan in place. (Later in the meeting, architect Tavares confirmed that no such plan exists.)
·      Fire evacuation: For Lawson Valley, there are few choices: the main road or a poorly maintained trail that would hardly handle horse trailers. Kjonegaard suggested that the applicants speak with someone at the local fire district about procedures for sheltering in place.

The revised plans include the first floor of the barn at 9,785 square feet and a second floor at 3,727 square feet, for a total of 13,512 square feet for the primary oversized structure. In addition, a separate 2,800 square foot outside feed storage building is planned.

Planning Group member Randy White asked about the purpose of the second floor. Trainer Ann Judd said that is was originally intended to be half living space, half storage, but now it was all storage. Interestingly, those who attended the Open House in July were told variously by Judd that either workers or Judd herself would be using the living space. At the meeting, however, Judd indicated that space had been intended as guest quarters for non-resident owners the Tatars.

Planning Group chair Michael Casinelli asked about the groundwater issue: Would they truck in water? Drill a new well? Judd mentioned having tanks for “extra water” in case of fire but didn’t indicate where that water would come from. Tavares said something about storing water during the “rainy season” but again did not explain how that would be accomplished. Tavares also mentioned drilling a second well (there are already two wells on the property) and something about a “storage well,” though what that might actually be is unclear.

Planning Group member Steve Wragg asked if there was a vector control plan for flies. Tavares said there is no plan.

Wragg then asked how much water a horse drinks per day. To the surprise of many, Judd said, “Not much. About three gallons a day.”  Planning Group member Yvonne Purdy-Luxton looked up the information on her smart phone and reported more accurate figures: In 70 degree weather, a horse consumes about 10-12 gallons of water per day; in hotter weather, consumption increases to 20-25 gallons per day.

The first community member to speak, Jacquelin Hancock, elaborated on these figures. Twenty horses consuming twenty gallons a day is 400 gallons a day, or 146,000 gallons per year just for equine drinking water. (Water for bathing the horses would of course add to this figure, which also doesn’t include human use;  the average household uses around 350 gallons per day or 127,400 per year.) Hancock also explained why water is such a serious issue for Lawson Valley: rather than being on a water table, Lawson has “fractured access.” One person can have a successful well while their next door neighbor can drill repeatedly only to meet with failure.

Several other community members (Lynn Vaugh, Shelly Owens, Leslie Yoder) spoke, echoing Hancock’s concerns and adding traffic, water contamination, environmental damage, and fire safety and evacuation to the list of problems the project could create. Owens revealed that Judd herself had admitted that the property was unsuitable for their purposes. Yoder remarked on the applicants’ frequently changing answers to questions and hoped that with further education from the Planning Group, the Tatars might reconsider their plans.

In addition, letters from local residents Wendy Collins, Jordi Capdet, and Byron and Ron White reiterated these issues. Collins pointed out that a neighbor’s well had gone dry. Capdet remarked on the number of auto-related deaths in the valley. The Whites expressed their opposition even if the project were reduced to 13,500 square feet (which is still over twice the zoned size) and stated that previous attempts to maintain an orchard on the property failed due to lack of water.

One resident, Kim Beales, wrote in favor of the project, saying that more horses in the valley would lead to better trail management for everyone. (Beales is apparently unaware that these show horses will never set hoof on a trail.)

Other community members had questions for the Planning Group and applicants. Rob Henry asked what provisions were planned for the handling of horse waste.  Member Kjonegaard again stressed that the drainage issue must be addressed per the Health Department. Joan Kouns asked why the project didn’t require a major use permit and full environmental impact report. Members Kjonegaard and Strouf said per new rules outlined in the county’s Tiered Equine Ordinance, the project is not large enough to warrant those requirements.

Planning Group member White indicated that with the further testing and preparation necessary for project approval, the process is at least 18 months out.

Planning Group chair Casinelli said that tonight’s meeting was intended to be informational, and no action would be taken.

Member Jean Strouf, apparently taking to task some community members who spoke, said she feels that people should be able to do what they want with their land as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

I couldn’t agree more with Strouf. Zoning ordinances, building codes, indeed even Planning Groups exist to ensure that individuals and businesses do not harm the community with their actions. As was made clear in the numerous comments of both local residents and Planning Group members, without proper oversight, the project at 3131 Rudnick does have the potential to hurt the area and the people who live here. Far from playing NIMBY, local residents welcome new neighbors to Lawson Valley; in fact, several people who spoke at the meeting are recent arrivals. We all have the same goal: the preservation and continued vitality of the community for everyone who calls Lawson Valley home.

Our last poll asked, “Should the county permit the construction of a 44,000 square foot structure on Rudnick Drive?” The results were one “yes” vote, 19 “no” votes, and two “other” votes. Unfortunately, the comments made for the “other” votes are not visible on the blog, but those voters wrote, “Not if it is a business as the rest of us can't even have a small granny flat,” and “Hell NO,” bringing the total of “no” votes to 21.

Please take a moment to vote in our new poll.

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