When Craig Johnson moved to Valley Center in 1978, he could see only seven lights from the ridge on Chaparral Terrace. "Now there are hundreds," he said.
On March 5, he and about 100 other Valley Center residents attended a meeting of the San Diego Planning Commission to protest a site plan submitted by developer John Belanich for the Orchard Run residential project.
Approved by the commission in 1998, it sits on 118 acres off Betsworth Road and includes 177 homes and two recreation centers. As a condition of approval, Belanich, who said he just wants to live long enough to see the project through, was required to submit a site plan describing certain features before building could start.
Lael Montgomery, chairwoman of the Valley Center Design Review Board, called the project "Orchard Run-Amok."
"This is not about density...or resistance to change...or affordable housing," Montgomery said. "This is about site design, period." According to her, the project has a "suburban cookie-cutter design" and "destroys the natural topography with artificial 'wedding cake' grading."
Oliver Smith, chairman of the Valley Center Planning Group, referred to the project as a "tragedy."
Final approval hinged on the trails, which residents will use. Belanich said a public trail would involve a liability that he would "rather not get into." When asked if he'd be willing to pay for one, he said, "I will pay for a public trail on the condition that we end this nightmare of continuances."
At the end of the three-hour meeting, the commission approved the site with the following conditions: the sound wall must have creeping vines between the rock-faced columns; any future trails will be designed to connect to existing and future trails; the landscaping plan must be reconciled to the current list of "invasive species," namely sycamores and pepper trees; and street lights must meet building-permit installation standards.