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September Ranch reaches for the finish line–again

By CHRIS COUNTS  TheCarmel Pine Cone

Published: Sept. 10, 2010

TWELVE YEARS after first approving a housing development at September Ranch, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors will take another look at it.

 Despite pleas from attorneys and activists who criticized the development, the Monterey County Planning Commission voted 6-4 Tuesday to endorse the plan. Now it’s up the supervisors to approve or deny it.

They last approved it in 2006, but that permit was overturned after a lawsuit was filed by the Sierra Club and others. In 2008, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Susan Dauphine ruled that the project’s EIR wasn’t adequate.

The present, scaled-down version of the project — which was introduced in 1995 — includes 73 single-family market-rate homes, 22 affordable units and 891 acres of open space. The ranch’s equestrian center, which has long provided a scenic backdrop for part of Carmel Valley Road, will remain. 

Representing landowner Jim Morgens, attorney Tony Lombardo asked the planning commission to back the plan, which the county’s planning staff also endorsed.  

Despite Lombardo’s contention that the water issues regarding the project are settled, several speakers said the project will draw water from the Carmel River watershed, despite extensive studies that confirm the development would tap into a separate aquifer.

“There is no separate aquifer,” Carmel Valley resident Glenn Robinson insisted. “We know it’s all part of the same system.”

 LandWatch executive director Amy White agreed with Robinson. “The water for this project is going to come out of the Carmel River,” she said.

Planning commission chair Jay Brown, though, countered the charge, saying that all the project’s water issues have been resolved. “As far as it’s humanly possible, this is a settled issue.”

Another concern raised at the meeting was how the county — with its shorthanded staff — is going to assure the project’s 190 different conditions are met. “Who’s going to enforce those things?” asked planning commissioner Martha Diehl.

Lombardo, countered that the project has “water management and controls beyond anything the county” has ever implemented.

Realtor Skip Marquard agreed that enforcement won’t be an issue. He said “oversight from the planning and building department is very rigorous.”

Carmel Valley resident Christine Williams said she’s worried about how much traffic the project will create on Highway 1. “I drive on it every day, and I can assure you that the southbound lane has reached capacity,” reported Williams, president of the Carmel Valley Association, a homeowners’ group.

And attorney Michael Stamp weighed in on the project, which he said creates no benefit for the public.

“They get their 95 units and a beautiful subdivision, and what do we get? The bill for the next 20 to 30 years for the damage they have done,” he suggested.

Not everyone in the audience criticized the project. 

“I know that my friends and neighbors support this project,” said Nancy Rushmer, who said she has lived in Carmel Valley for 55 years. “They have jumped through every hoop. It’s a beautiful project that will still allow us to look at the cows and the horses in the field. It will add to Carmel Valley’s glory.”

Several speakers expressed concern about how much water each new home would use — and some said it would only be a matter of time before homeowners were installing swimming pools and planting water-loving tomatoes. Brown, though, wasn’t buying the argument. “I’m not concerned if people are growing tomatoes after 10 years.” 

Commissioners Brown, Aurelio Salazar, Jr., Paul Getzelman, Matthew W. Ottone, Don Rochester and Juan Sanchez voted to recommend approval of the project. Commissioners Diehl, Keith Vandevere, Amy Roberts and Cosme Padilla recommended denial. Diehl and Vandevere represent the district where the project is located.

Morgens, understandably, was happy with the commission’s decision.

“We’re gratified the planning commission sees this the way we do,” Morgens told The Pine Cone after the meeting. “I think we’ve not only done everything we can do, but everything we need to do. The water issue is settled. It’s a good project for the community, and a lot of people support it.”

A date has not yet been set for the supervisors’ hearing on September Ranch.