Escondido, CA

SD County gives Lilac Hills Ranch fire safety ultimatum

The County of San Diego has given the longstanding proposed Lilac Hills Ranch development an ultimatum: come up with a viable plan for guaranteeing that fire clearing will happen along West Lilac Road without the acquisition of easements or risk having the County recommend that the Board of Supervisors vote to deny the project. It has given the project until this week to give it what it wants.

At last week’s meeting of the Deer Springs Fire Protection District, the board was made aware of letters that have been sent to Jon Rilling, project manager for Lilac Hills Ranch (LHR) by the San Diego County Fire Authority and by the Dept. of Planning & Development Services. When The Times-Advocate learned of these documents we requested copies from the fire district, which it obligingly and swiftly provided.

The most recent letter, signed Mark Wardlaw, director of Planning & Development Services on May 8, says: “Since our letter to you on January 8, 2020, staff has not received evidence that fire clearing along West Lilac Road will continue throughout the life of the Project. Without the legal assurance of easements, the fire risk to the area remains unaddressed. Due to the time that has passed since our letter and lack of progress to provide the required easements, staff requests you withdraw your permit applications by May 20, 2020. If we do not receive a request to withdraw the permit applications, staff will take the Project forward to the Board of Supervisors (Board) on June 24, 2020 with a recommendation of denial due to the significant fire safety concerns.”

Wardlaw’s letter ends, “In the event the Board does not approve the recommendation of denial and refers the Project to staff for further analysis, the Environmental Impact Report for the Project will need to be revised and recirculated for public review under the California Environmental Quality Act.”

That kind of wording is about as close as the County comes to making a definitive statement that you will probably ever read.

The letters were sent on January 8, 2020, and then May 8, 2020.

Lilac Hills Ranch has been with us so long that it seems to many people that it’s a factor of existence, like the moon’s changing phases. It seems almost more appropriate to discuss it during Halloween than any other time of the year since it is, literally, the project that will not die. It is certainly a hardy project that, having first arrived on the scene more than 15 years ago, has never gone away entirely, in spite of a countywide election in November 2016 where almost two thirds of the voters opposed the 1,746 unit project proposed for land along West Lilac Road.

Despite that setback, the project reappeared two years later, rebranded as an entirely new, carbon neutral development, although with the same density.

Whether the last words about Lilac Hills Ranch have indeed been written by the two letters from the County are unlikely. 

Jon Rilling, of Village Communities, LLC, when asked by The Times-Advocate to comment on the letters, sent us this statement: “We are very excited to move forward to the Board of Supervisors with The New Lilac Hills Ranch – one of the most cutting edge communities ever proposed in this County. The Project has received several recommendations of approval from the County Planning Commission, in 2010 and 2015. Since that time, the project has incorporated every County recommendation and condition to address School, Water and Sewer facilities and most importantly fire and evacuation safety. Over the last 18 months, since our Planning Commission recommendation in June of 2018, we have worked tirelessly with the County Fire Authority, County Sheriff, County Department of Public Works and the County Planning and Development Services to ensure that every recommended safety feature was incorporated. The result is an unprecedented 28 public safety features. We would never ask the County to even contemplate recommending a project that is not fire-safe and we are hopeful that we can reach an agreement with the County on the last remaining issue.”

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