Thursday, August 15, 2002
The developers of the Rancho San Carlos subdivision, according to their opponents, are stealthily trying to build commercial facilities on the 20,000-acre Carmel Valley tract. Again.
A hard-fought 1996 ballot referendum known as Measure M put a law on the books decreeing that no hotels or shopping centers are allowed on the Rancho San Carlos land which includes about 30 homes, a private historic "hacienda" and a private golf course.
Critics accuse RSC owners of using the General Plan Update process to change the property''s land use designation from "Resource Conservation" to "Special Treatment"-a vague label which would essentially open the proverbial gates to hotels and more golf courses.
"We know that they want Commercial [zoning]; they tried to get Commercial, they even had it approved by the Board of Supervisors," says Gillian Taylor of the Sierra Club. "And then Measure M overturned it. To us, this appears that they are trying a back-door way to get commercial development back in."
RSC Environmental Planner Joel Panzer says the zoning change request is a small matter.
"The purpose of the request is to make the land use designation consistent throughout the property," Panzer says. RSC property lies within three planning areas: Carmel Valley, Carmel Coastal and Greater Monterey Peninsula.
But Michele Pollock, who was involved in the Measure M battle six years ago, firmly believes the developer has bigger plans.
"[Measure M] gutted their commercial plans," Pollock says. "And that''s the way we want to keep it."
RSC had originally proposed-and received approval from the Board of Supervisors for-a 150-room hotel, a commercial/retail complex, a public golf course and 350 home sites. Measure M essentially killed RSC''s dreams.
Three years later, in 1999, RSC owners made another push for commercial development, asking the County for permits to build a country club and an equestrian center and to use the hacienda as an inn. County officials denied RSC''s application.
At a Planning Commission hearing this week, RSC owners will ask the County for the "Special Treatment" zoning of the 20,000-acre property. If the owners have their way, RSC won''t be subject to the development limitations.
County staff has recommended that the Planning Commission deny the RSC request. The Board of Supervisors will make the final call.
RSC attorney Brian Finegan, in his letter to the County seeking the zoning change, made no mention of Measure M.
"This was a concern to the LUAC members because had the land use change been granted without a reference to Measure M, it would have perhaps opened the door to a lot of commercial activity up on Rancho San Carlos," says Margaret Robbins, a member of the Carmel Valley Land Use Advisory Committee which successfully recommended the planning commission deny RSC''s proposal.
Repeatedly, RSC spokespeople have downplayed the proposal, saying that it is mere "housekeeping."
"But to overlook the effects of Measure M is not simply a housekeeping measure," Robbins says.
Joel Panzer of RSC disagrees, insisting that he simply wants to achieve consistency. "From a comprehensive planning standpoint, you would want the entire property to be treated the same, instead of saying these policies only apply here, these policies only apply in the coastal area."
"A housekeeping measure? No," says land-use attorney Zan Henson, who represented Measure M proponents in ''96. "The General Plan land use designation provides for commercial. So it''s kind of like, if housekeeping includes a total redecoration, then yes, it''s housekeeping."
While legally, RSC attorneys can apply for a new zoning designation, this proposal "absolutely" violates the countywide vote to stop commercial development on the land, Henson says.
"Their technical, legal interpretation is that because Measure M was a referendum and it was passed, the zoning ordinance [approved by the Board of Supervisors to allow commercial development] was set aside. But after a year, under the law, they''re entitled to apply again. So they''re using those legal technicalities to say even though the public voted down the commercial aspects of the development-the 150-room hotel-that vote doesn''t count anymore.
"The present Board of Supervisors is going to have to vote one way or the other. They''re either going to vote with the people, or vote with the previous Board and the developer."