E-ALERT: New Development Proposed - Copper Hills / SD15
You may have seen a sign on the property right next to the former landfill site (on San Elijo Road) for a project named "Copper Hills.” Copper Hills is a project that is being proposed by a developer (Stephen A. Bieri Company) to the City of San Marcos. The land itself is actually in the unincorporated County of San Diego. San Marcos does not have jurisdiction (though the developer could attempt an annexation). In the County of San Diego, the developer is also attempting to change the current zoning of that land in case they choose to pursue the project in County jurisdiction. This zoning amendment (General Plan Amendment) is being called SD15 in the County of San Diego.
- 69 acres, currently zoned for 60 dwellings and no commercial.
- Seeks general plan amendment to accommodate 351 dwellings
- Seeks general plan amendment to include 138,000 feet of commercial
I'm posting this to provide information so that neighbors in the area can take steps to inform themselves about this project and decide for themselves whether it is in their interests or not. The EFHG Town Council has not written an official comment letter yet, but will issue one in the weeks to come. We would welcome your comments as it will help us craft our own comment letter based on community input. There will be a hearing at the San Dieguito Planning Group in the next month to discuss this project and they would love to hear from the community regarding their thoughts on the project.
Some of this information was posted on NextDoor, but I have added new information in case people are interested. This is based on the best available information I have at the moment, but I encourage folks to confirm, validate on their own by reaching out to the County staff, San Marcos planning and/or the developer who, I’m sure is open to a dialogue with the community.
I met Mr. Bieri and Matt Simmons from CCI briefly for about 20 minutes after the most recent planning group meeting and they seemed forthcoming and eager to get feedback. I wanted to share this information to initiate a discussion and am open to any corrections or suggestions.
COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO / NOT CITY SAN MARCOS
The land this project is in is under the jurisdiction of the County of San Diego (unincorporated SD County) not the City of San Marcos as some might be led to believe. It is in an unincorporated area that has preserved open space on the south and western sides of the project, the former landfill on the eastern side and San Elijo Road on its northern boundary. It is referred to as SD15 (because it is in the San Dieguito Plan Area). SD County has jurisdiction and is the entity that would need to approve a density increase if it were to become a full fledged project in the County of San Diego.
As I understand it, the developer is simultaneously seeking amendments to both the San Diego County General Plan zoning and City of San Marcos general plans (with the possibility of annexing into San Marcos) eventually. This dual path allows them to explore various options as either a) a County project or n) a San Marcos project. This is why San Marcos has a notice of application posted on the site. They've begun the application process with the City of San Marcos. In San Diego County, they are processing a zoning change first so the County does not have the a full fledged application (as SM does).
The 69 acres are currently zoned SR1 (semi-rural, one dwelling per acre) with steep slopes and habitat that would likely only allow for around 60 or so dwellings under the current zoning and NO commercial. They are seeking additional density increases to accommodate 351 dwellings and 138,000 feet of commercial.
According to the County assessor's office, this parcel was purchased in 2004 for $48,755 per acre. It is now assessed at $59,731 per acre. This is a lot lower than most habitat acreage in the area likely because it is located next to a decommissioned landfill. The landfill itself is a potential hazard as well. Back when San Elijo was being built, there was a lawsuit (and $3 million settlement) to include a buffer between the landfill and San Elijo (on the northern side). This project is on the other side of and adjacent to (and downhill) from the landfill.
The current zoning already allows for about 61 residences, by right (but no commercial) which, it seems, would allow for a significant profit if developed as is, based on current property values (remember, the 69 acres were purchased for $3.3MM in 2004 and they can feasibly build 61 houses on it). At current market values, those 61 homes would amount about to $40-50 million worth in market value.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE OTHER POTENTIAL IMPACTS?
Part of evaluating these projects is understanding the impacts the project will have on traffic, fire safety, evacuation, noise, etc. to see how these impacts can be reduced or eliminated. At the moment, the County of San Diego has conducted some preliminary analysis on traffic, fire safety, biological resources, etc specific to the request, but not detailed studies as in a full fledged project (since they have not submitted plans for the project). That is because this (SD15) is being lumped into a dozen or so other requests being processed by the County and they are being analyzed together (at taxpayer expense). The County is studying this at a cost of roughly $3 million of taxpayer money (though there are many other projects being analyzed as well).
According to the County documents, this zoning change (SD15) will generate an additional 16,231 average daily trips to and from the project area. The County did NOT analyze how it would impact San Elijo Road, but you can imagine what 16,231 additional trips coming to and from that spot will do to traffic in the area. It would be good to see what impact that will have and what the developer plans to do to reduce or eliminate this concern. Here is the County's traffic analysis (search for SD15 which is this parcel) which spells out the analysis for number of trips originating from the project.
The entire plan area and the surrounding parcels are designated a Very High Fire Hazard Safety Zone by CalFire. It is adjacent to permanently conserved wild land and has a higher probability of being impacted by wildfire. There is also a landfill adjacent that may emit methane gas. There do not appear to be any studies which analyze either fire safety of the proposal or the ability to evacuate. If you all remember Coco’s fire, SE Road was backed up for almost two hours as residents sought to get away from the fire. Luckily, the fire changed directions at the last minute and traveled south instead of west towards the evacuating traffic.
These 351 new residences and 138,000 feet of commercial space would add another 2.5 to 3 vehicles per household (so close to a 1000 vehicles for the residences alone) to the evacuating traffic. We’d need to see how the applicant plans on addressing that, if possible.
The project is also within the San Diego MSCP (multiple species conservation program) as well. Some of the property has Federally threatened (CA State Species of Concern) Coastal California Gnatcatcher habitat which poses some challenges, and some of the last remaining areas of California with Coastal Sage Scrub habitat. Not insurmountable, from the developer's standpoint (there is always mitigation) but something that all stakeholders should be aware of. The land is adjacent (on the southern and western sides) by permanently conserved land owned by the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM) and it provides important wildlife corridor for a variety of wildlife. Again, the developer can overcome these issues by buying mitigation land elsewhere to offset the potential habitat damage, but it is important be aware of this. CNLM is on record as opposing the zoning change for this very reason. Also, on the record opposing this is the Endangered Habitat League and the Escondido Creek Conservancy due to the high habitat value.
Some folks have asked how would it impact the schooling? According to the County documents, this project would be in San Marcos Unified and would add another 188 children to the district. Since there is no specific plan from the developer yet, we don’t know how they plan to address that. I’m sure that would be forthcoming.
WHAT'S THE PROCESS? GENERAL PLAN AMENDMENT
So, right now, the developer is petitioning San Diego County (via a process called General Plan Amendment) to change the zoning to include higher density housing (from 60 to about 351) and from no commercial to 138,000 feet of commercial space.
To be clear, during San Diego County's decade long General Plan process (which was meant to allocate housing in an efficient and sustainable way throughout the County and cost taxpayers $18 million), this area was assigned this zoning to fit in with the surrounding properties and the rest of the county’s plan policies. All the parcels were downzoned as part of the GP (and adjacent property owners agreed to do so to protect the area, thus limiting their own profit potential). Nearby large property owners are on record as opposing this out of fairness.
Once the zoning is amended, they will likely continue focusing on a dual path of either a) processing this project through the County of San Diego or, b) potentially annexing into San Marcos and continue processing it through the City of San Marcos.
WHAT DOES SAN MARCOS HAVE TO DO WITH IT?
For another fun twist in arcane land use politics, City of San Marcos has what is called "Sphere of Influence”(SOI) which means that while the parcel is not in their jurisdiction, they have an underlying "tentative" zoning for the area that County manages, in case there is an annexation. So, in San Marcos SOI, the parcel has tentative zoning for commercial/ light industrial, but that would only apply if and when they annex the parcel into SM. This would requires a process that involves County of San Diego, City of SM and a group called LAFCO (local area formation committee) which blesses annexations... it is quite a process and the community is allowed input throughout. Once annexed, San Marcos would also need to amend their General Plan zoning to allow for 351 residential units in addition to the commercial zoning.
So what are next steps? Well, a preliminary EIR (environmental impact report) was prepared by the County of San Diego and the comment period for that specific EIR has already expired. Because this application (SD15) was lumped in with a bunch of other applications, most people were not aware of it which is why we are just now discussing it. It's not too late to weigh in though.
SEND IN COMMENTS
While the EIR comment period is closed with the County, folks may still comment on the project itself through March 15 by contacting Kevin Johnston at the County of San Diego:
You can also reach out to the City of San Marcos:
Norm Pedersen, Associate Planner City of San Marcos Planning Division
Please cc the Town Council at email@example.com so we can keep track of public sentiment on this.
COME TO THE MEETING: SAN DIEGUITO PLANNING GROUP:
Sometime in March (date TBD), the SDPG will be discussing the merits of this project and they encourage folks to provide comments in person. SDPG is a community group and they vote on these proposals prior to them going to the planning commission and board of supervisors. We'll send out an E-ALERT to announce the date once it is finalized.
Once an advisory vote is made at SDPG, the Planning Commission will review this property request and will vote to recommend approval or denial and then will send it to the Board of Supervisors to vote on final yay or nay. Commenters will be allowed to weigh in (3 minutes each) at this meeting.
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS MEETING:
The final vote to approve this project will be by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors which requires at least 3 out of the 5 to approve the project. You may also weigh in at this meeting to give you approval or opposition to the project.
SAN MARCOS ANNEXATION:
If the applicant chooses to go the route of annexation into San Marcos, there will likely be a process for that as well. Make sure to ask to be put on the notification list for this project so you are kept in the loop.
You can review the EIR for the Property Specific Requests (search for project SD15) here:
And you should search for SD15 as that is the project that is pertinent to you guys.
San Marcos Website: http://www.san-marcos.net/Home/Components/FacilityDirectory/FacilityDirectory/682/1183
These projects are very complicated and a lot happens behind the scenes, sometimes without anyone knowing until it is too late to comment, due to the obscure land use processes that these project have to go through. I learned about this just recently and have done some homework to become better informed.
I don't blame the owners for wanting to make the best use of the land to benefit their bottom line. But is also important for the community to be fully informed and aware of all the pros and cons of the project and weigh in to the County of San Diego as well as to the developers themselves. I don't believe that the community (of San Elijo, in particular, but also Elfin Forest) have been given all the information and am interested in hearing what everyone's thoughts are once you've researched it as that will help us craft our comment letter. Good luck and I encourage you to do your due diligence with County staff, City of San Marcos and the developer so you can make an informed opinion about whether this is in your best interests as a community.
-JP Theberge, Vice Chair, Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council