Escondido, CA
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Safari Highlands rebranded, remastered as Harvest Hills

A development in the San Pasqual  that once evoked images of climbing aboard a tram to visit giraffes and zebras has quickly been transformed into a poster child for sustainability and a cross between a farmer’s market and a housing project with a “net zero carbon footprint.”

Once known as Safari Highlands Ranch, Concordia Homes has rebranded and revamped its development near the Safari Park in the San Pasqual Valley to Harvest Hills, which will include 550 estate homes and a new, fully equipped fire station amidst more than 762 acres.

The project has been reworked into a “net zero energy” “carbon neutral” agri-neighborhood that pushes all of the Climate Change buttons. It has impressed the mayor of Escondido, Paul McNamara, who after taking office in January demanded some heavy-lifting from the developer before he would support the project.

It has NOT impressed longtime critics of the project, the San Pasqual Valley Preservation Alliance, whose spokesman Dr. NeySa Ely told The Times-Advocate: “At this point I would sum up SPVPA’s response as: Renaming this sprawl project does not address the numerous serious concerns documented during the Safari Highlands Ranch DEIR public comment period.”

The city’s planning department wrote about the changes that have been wrought to the design, “Generally, the amount of grading and the area of disturbance has decreased, while the overall number of 550 residential lots has remained the same.”

The mayor still hasn’t endorsed it, although he likes the direction Concordia is going. 

McNamara told The Times-Advocate: “I applaud Concordia’s efforts and environmental sensitivity as well as their willingness to adapt to and meet the demands of our changing environment.  That said, there are still issues that need to be resolved before I believe this would be an acceptable project to the community.  The county and its cities have a responsibility and requirement to build more housing. How we do it, is the discussion.  Having developers who are willing to have a dialogue with all elements of the community is vital to a successful project.  I commend Concordia for their willingness to have all voices at the table.”

John Masson, a member of the city council commented, “I think they are responding to community concerns along with the latest trends regarding farm to table and sustainable communities. I commend them for this.”

Another councilmember, Olga Diaz, told The Times-Advocate: “I recently had a project update from the Concordia team, including Dick Daniels. They presented several beautiful images and mentioned the  addition of garden acreage that inspired the name change.  My questions to them revolved around fire safety, the cost of fire safety, the secondary access road and the impact to the school.  I have not yet seen the final EIR but I learned that there was a finance plan prepared to address the expense of fire protection.  I have requested a copy but not received it yet.” She added, “Until I get a chance to consider all the details, my general positions remains unchanged. It’s not the name of the projected that earns my vote, it’s the solution to substantive issues of safety and cost that I am concerned about.”

Asked what the San Pasqual Valley Preservation Alliance would like the developer to do, Ely said, We are looking for the developer to address the numerous serious issues documented and submitted in response to the SHR DEIR in late 2017. Given two failed development attempts of that same area, there is no reason to think that the wide-reaching and negative impacts that were the basis for the City of Escondido’s Planning Commission to recommend against development of that land in the past have lessened or disappeared.”

On Tuesday Concordia Homes announced a series of substantial design updates and a new name for its proposed housing project in Escondido’s San Pasqual Valley. According to Concordia, “Previously known as Safari Highlands Ranch, the project will now be Harvest Hills – Escondido’s first ever carbon neutral, net zero energy and agri-neighborhood housing community. The latest project updates are reflective of feedback received through community meetings, online mediums and the project’s environmental review process.” 

“We are excited about the new theme and updates for the proposed community, including its new name, Harvest Hills,” said Jeb Hall, principal at Concordia Homes. “As we worked to fully integrate the agri-neighborhood, net zero energy and carbon neutral features into the design, it became clear that a new name and brand representing these new features was needed.”

According to Concordia’s press release: “Harvest Hills will continue Escondido’s long agricultural tradition in a contemporary way as an agri-neighborhood. Harvest Hills’ seven distinct neighborhoods will include gardens, groves and boutique greenhouses that provide families with the opportunity to grow their own fruit, vegetables and herbs through an adopt-a-plot program.”

A new community center named The Farmhouse will serve as the heart of the community, creating a gathering place for new neighbors with an onsite working farm, an aquaponics greenhouse, and a recreational area and gathering space. 

“Harvest Hills will set a new standard for sustainable housing communities in Escondido and throughout the region,” said Don Underwood, Principal at Concordia Homes. “Working with the community, we are proud to have updated Harvest Hills in a way that honors Escondido’s rich agricultural history, while supporting the City’s sustainable future.”

According to the statement:  “As a net zero energy and carbon neutral community, Harvest Hills will showcase the future of renewable energy-powered neighborhoods that help protect the environment and support climate action goals. Through the addition of extensive rooftop solar and battery energy storage systems and energy efficient appliances, lighting, insulation and windows, the community will produce enough clean, renewable energy on-site to meet its energy demand. Additionally, Harvest Hills will offset all of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as a carbon neutral community through a variety of innovative measures, including a first-of-its-kind electric vehicle ownership financial incentive program.”

The update included reducing the project’s impact on the land by 50 acres, lowering and mostly eliminating the visibility of new homes from existing neighborhoods, increasing open space and preservation to 762 acres, and adding parking space resulting in 13 parks and pocket parks, in addition to The Farmhouse, spread throughout the community.

“As a San Pasqual Valley neighbor, I am excited to have Harvest Hills become part of our community,” said Carl Skaja, leader of the Friends of Eagle Crest group that represents dozens of neighbors who support the proposed community. “We are grateful for the multiple opportunities to provide our feedback on Harvest Hills and to have had our suggestions taken seriously. We are looking forward to the benefits it will provide our community.”

Each of Harvest Hills’ seven distinct neighborhoods will have a unique name that honors a piece of Escondido’s agricultural past, such as Alexandria at Harvest Hills and Valencia at Harvest Hills after the area’s first Alexandria de Muscat grape and Valencia orange crops. 

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