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Altair project west of Old Town to proceed with city council's blessing


Last updated 12/12/2017 at Noon

This map shows how different portions of a large development west of Old Town Temecula, dubbed Altair, will be zoned. Courtesy photo.

The Temecula City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 12, approved a high density mixed use development slated for the foothills west of Old Town, despite pleas from environmental groups that they should table the project for the time being.

The council voted 4-1, with councilman James "Stew" Stewart dissenting, to approve the project, which would bring as many as 1,750 residential units to a 270-acre property in the foothills.

Stewart had raised concerns about the project's possible impact to traffic on an already regularly congested 15 Freeway as well as the fact that the community wasn't designated for seniors, a group he has advocated to get increased housing for.

"This piece of land -- the views that it has, the amenities that it's bringing, would be fabulous," Stewart said. "I love the project. There's really nothing I do not like about this project, except for the impact it's going to put on the 15."

The mixed use development would bring a mixture of housing, an elementary school that could serve up to 730 students, trails and open spaces, a civic center and establish the Western Bypass, a roadway that would run from Temecula Parkway to Diaz Road. The roadway would help to form a "loop" around the city that would also include Murrieta Hot Springs Road, Butterfield Stage Road and Temecula Parkway.

A group of more than 30 people arrived to speak on the issue before council members voted.

Proponents of the project included members of the business community who like the idea of increased foot traffic in their businesses, and residents who said they were allured by the project and would like to someday live there.

Speaker Jeff Gutowski said had not yet achieved his goal of home ownership. He said he would one day like to own a home in the city like what was being offered through the Altair project.

"One of the reasons I'm so excited for Altair is that it is going to follow on that vision for the quality of life that I've always been so excited about and hope to bring a family into that area," Gutowski said. "Parks, biking trails, places to hike -- places to really be healthy and to have a sense of community and a sense of family that has all of those family values that we've all cared about."

Opponents of the project included residents concerned about increased traffic on the 15 Freeway as well as environmental groups who said they were concerned about how much land was being conserved, where it was being conserved and whether enough was being done to allow safe crossings for mountain lions that use the area for a corridor.

According to documents from the city, city officials received a letter on Dec. 7 from the West Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority that said that the agency had reached an agreement with the city on how many acres should be put away for conservation purposes.

However, some environmental groups were still concerned that more could be done to protect wildlife corridors and be mindful of species such as the mountain lion.

"We do think more is needed," Cara Lacey, a land use planner with the Nature Conservancy, said. "The focus of the Nature Conservancy is to make sure that the preserved system associated with the MSHCP is assembled and that the wildlife corridors remain viable. We think we're getting close to that goal, but we do feel we need a little bit more time, and I'm not asking you to give much. I'm just asking for a 30 day continuance."

Temecula resident Matt Nelson, who has lived in the city since 1989, said he was wary about what additional residents moving in might mean.

"I think the term capacity is really what we should be thinking about," Nelson said. "I think Temecula is at capacity or it probably was five years ago or so, and kind of the thing that bugs me most of all is the thought of driving down the freeway, and for 20-30 years, I've seen the beautiful hillside just as it was and I know what it's going to look like -- the cut and the fill. And that stuff is rock under there, there's no top soil there, you can't re-vegetate that."

Councilmember Mike Naggar emphasized that he and fellow councilmember Jeff Comerchero had been working as part of subcommittee on the project for more than four years and during that time they met with staff, consultants and attorneys to make sure that the project was optimal for the city and took conservation into consideration, but also didn't impinge on the developers' rights.

"We found ourselves consistent with the MSHCP over a year ago," Naggar said, addressing the many environmental groups in the audience. "And in fact, we are consistent with the MSHCP; The RCA says so and it's the duty to of the RCA to to represent the wildlife agencies, so if the RCA is not representing the wildlife agencies, I think the wildlife agencies need to have a discussion with the RCA."

He said it would be unfair for the developer to make any additional concessions when they had already made many to try to preserve species and meet the requirements of conservationists head-on.

"At some point you can't hold them up indefinitely, and take their property and make them do everything you want on it, so that it reduces their value to next to nothing," Naggar said. "You can't do that. In fact, when I think about it, our U.S. Constitution protects that. They need to be fairly compensated."

After a more than six hour meeting, the council approved the project.


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