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San Marcos City Council looking to bar construction on city's ridgelines

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As prospective San Marcos homebuyers look to keep movin' on up -- literally -- a new development called San Elijo Hills planned to sit atop a ridgeline may be their last chance.

At a well-attended meeting this month, the San Marcos City Council agreed to begin working on an ordinance to bar building on ridgelines in the city.

The council noted, however, that it is too late to stop the construction of 28 homes on the Cerro del las Posas ridgeline that will be visible on the northern side of the mountain to most spots throughout the city because all the necessary permits were issued in 1997.

The ordinance, called the Ridgeline Protect Act of 2004, will be drafted by city staff and identify different ridgelines across the city that will be banned from new construction.

San Marcos Councilman Mike Preston called for the formation of a task force to solicit community input on how the ordinance is written.

The development in question focuses on the construction of 28 split level homes, a 36-foot high water tank and a 5,400-foot access road that cut directly across the face of the mountain.

The ridgeline in currently undeveloped -- one of the last in North County -- and offers panoramic views from the northern face to the ocean on clear days.

Jerry Backoff, director of the city's planning department, displayed a number of long distance photos of the peak from locations such as Discovery Park and Lake San Marcos to show the potential visual impacts of the development by cutting deeper slabs and adding landscaping.

Backoff said the developer is seeking a number of visual impact mitigation methods that will essentially hide these elements.

Numerous residents chided Backoff, saying that the photos are misrepresentative of the true impact because they were taken too far away.

San Marcos City Manager Rick Gittings said that San Elijo Hills donated more than 890 acres of property at the ridgeline for public park space and has worked with the city to minimize the visual impact of the homes.

Residents also called for a proposition to appear on the March 2005 ballot seeking to block all future ridgeline construction and include that the council also be unable to change it.

San Marcos residents voiced concerns that the development will destroy the natural beauty of the ridgeline that has long been the pride of the city.

Many of the upset residents at the meeting didn't pull any punches in pointing out the legislative faults of former councils in approving projects that, some say, go against the city's general and specific plans.

Larry Olsen, a resident and spokesman for the Friends of Cerro de las Posas, said the city's general plan reads that the city "shall preserve primary and secondary ridgelines...to the extent feasible."

A specific development plan and general plan amendment were passed by the City Council in 1997 to allow the development.

Bill Effinger, a San Marcos resident and founder of Restore the Ridgeline, called for an investigation into how the project was permitted when the city codes were supposed to protect the ridgelines. "I hope it was a comedy of errors rather than a purposeful voyage," he said.

Preston also said the issue may be reported to the county district attorney and state attorney general's office to seek out any illegal actions or violations of the California Environmental Quality Act.

Preston asked the city attorney to move forward with drafting a letter to both agencies.

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