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Council approves Castlerock homes

The San Diego City Council on Monday unanimously approved a plan by Pardee Homes to build a new development of more than 400 residential units located on the border of San Diego and Santee.

Under the proposal, the Castlerock development eventually will be incorporated into Santee, pending approval by that city’s officials as well as the Padre Dam Municipal Water District.

Santee Planning Director Melanie Kush said it is likely Santee will accept the plan after hashing out the details of annexation. But just in case Santee balks, the council also approved a proposal that would bring the development into San Diego instead.

"I’m excited because we’ve been working for more than 10 years on this project,” said Jimmy Ayala, director of community development at Pardee.

The project would add up to 283 single-family, detached homes and 147 multifamily, detached homes on 204 acres of currently vacant property on the north side of Mast Boulevard, bordered by Medina Drive to the east and West Hills Parkway to the west.

The project would include a 4-acre park, several small pocket parks and four vernal pools, providing habitat for the endangered San Diego fairy shrimp. Nearly half the property -- totaling 94 acres -- would be left as open space, including 90 acres that would be added to Mission Trails Regional Park.

“I’m very excited about Mission Trails adding about 90 acres,” said Councilmember Scott Sherman, who took the lead in pushing the proposal through the council. “This is something both San Diego and Santee will benefit from.”

Ayala said that after conducting more than 100 community meetings over the past several years, he has found “overwhelming support for the project,” especially from people who have been looking for new housing possibilities in and around Santee.

Ayala estimated that around 650 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs would be created by the project.

But the project is opposed by such groups as San Diego Coastkeeper, the local chapter of the Sierra Club and Preserve Wild Santee, who worry about its effects on local wildlife habitat and water resources.

“We need to stop this kind of urban growth,” said Jack Shu, president of the Cleveland National Forest Foundation. “More infill development is what we need.”

More than a dozen local residents spoke out against the project, complaining about its impact on local traffic, sewage and fire protection as well as its proximity to the Sycamore Landfill near Mast and West Hills.

“In 2003, the (Cedar Fire) burned within feet of our residence and we were told by the fire department to evacuate because no help was coming,” said Mary Collier, who lives on Medina. “Adding more homes would only make the impact worse.”

Steven Houlihan said the vacant land provides a buffer zone between the Sycamore Landfill and residents in the area. He warned that residents of the new development might find the air “malodorous, nauseating and difficult to breathe.”

Vicky Call, who has lived in Santee for 36 years, warned that traffic is sometimes backed up for half a mile or a mile during rush hour. “My summary statement is ‘Don’t do it,’” she said.

Ayala, however, said the critics were dealing in misinformation.

Javier Mainar, fire chief of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, said he believes Pardee’s plan adequately addresses fire concerns.

Bill Figge, deputy district director of planning at Caltrans, said that after studying the project’s potential impact on the interchange between Mast Boulevard and state Route 52, he is not opposed to the project.

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