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San Elijo Hills Ready For 2000

San Elijo Hills, a 3,398-home development that was long stalled because of litigation, a difficult economy and its proximity to the now-closed San Marcos Landfill, plans to offer its first homes for sale in early 2000.

Five home builders will be building in the project: ColRich Communities, Richmond American Homes, Shea Homes, Western Pacific Housing and K. Hovnanian Communities. The first lots will be delivered to the builders in the fall of 1999. Model home grand openings are planned for the beginning of 2000 with initial move-ins in late spring of 2000.

Curt Noland, San Elijo Hills general manager, said the home builders initially will build 737 single-family homes in the first phase of the development off Questhaven Road. San Elijo Hills is a project of Leucadia National Corp. and HomeFed Corp., the remaining entity acquired by Leucadia National after the collapse of HomeFed Bank.

"Leucadia recapitalized it," Noland explained.

Noland said the homes will range from a three-bedroom floor plan of about 1,500 square feet, to a five- to six-bedroom floor plan of about 4,000 square feet. Prices are expected to range from the $260,000s to the $600,000s. He added that the buyers will have a range of customizing options.

Along with the homes and open space, San Elijo Hills will feature a pedestrian-oriented 135,000-square-foot town center featuring shopping and dining opportunities.

The development will have a middle school and an elementary school. The developer also will wire all the homes, schools and businesses in the masterplan with state-of-the-art telecommunications technology and a community-wide intranet, providing residents with easy access to information and services.

Noland explained the community has been considered for development for some 45 years, but never got going until now.

In the 1980s and and the beginning of the 1990s, it looked like Walter Wolf, who had been very active in Rancho Bernardo, would develop San Elijo Hills as well, but he never was able to make the project fly. Wolf later sold the property to Leucadia National.

The project would not only be delayed due to a recession, but was delayed by its proximity to the now-closed San Marcos Landfill, which was shut in March 1997.

There were numerous concerns even after the landfill closed.

Leucadia National wanted to make sure there was adequate groundwater monitoring. There also were concerns about methane and whether there was sufficient money in a closure fund to monitor the landfill. Depending on which part of the property you stand on, the landfill is either as little as 1,000 feet, or as much as about 1.5 miles away from the San Elijo development site. The county and San Elijo agreed on a $3.4 million settlement for the acquisition by condemnation of 80 acres of the property being used as a buffer against the landfill. San Elijo once had contended the parcel was worth $20 million. Negotiations are ongoing between the county, the city of San Marcos and Leucadia to resolve outstanding concerns such as the ground-water-monitoring issue. Noland said he is confident that a solution will be reached to everyone's satisfaction.

If the landfill hadn't been problem enough for Leucadia, a group calling itself Citizens Against Rural Exploitation filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in the mid-1990s charging that insufficient environmental work had been done to mitigate the expected impacts of the development.

Following extensive negotiations, CARE and San Elijo Hills LLC jointly announced a settlement that will allow a the 3,398-unit development in San Elijo Ranch to go forward.

CARE had filed a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court to block the project on the grounds that certain portions of the county's Environmental Impact Report were flawed. Although the trial judge initially threw out the case, in December the 4th District Court of Appeal partially agreed with CARE, thus reviving the organization's lawsuit.

Now, in return for CARE's blessing, the developer has agreed to numerous conditions, including studies to improve traffic flow through the Elfin Forest to Rancho Santa Fe Road. A retail component that would be more pedestrian friendly also was agreed upon.

These haven't been the only changes. When Wolf had the property, it was being conceived as a golf course resort community. Now, Leucadia National feels that it makes sense to leave more than half the property in open space and to delete the golf course and resort from the earlier plan.

Noland said the owner has set aside more than half of the 1,920 acres permanently as natural open space, parks and community landscaping -- a total of 1,115 acres -- and the community has its own network of trails Two-thirds of these trails will be tucked away from roadways to enhance the experience of the natural surroundings.

Noland said research found that open space areas with accessible trails are enormously important to residents and are a tremendous selling point to new home buyers.

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