Hearing on huge Old Town housing development set for mid-November

Project is being proposed by Ambient Communities, a San Diego company that has built similar developments in Mission Valley.

One of the biggest projects in the city’s history — a 1,700-unit housing development that will transform the foothills west of Old Town — will be hitting the Temecula Planning Commission in mid-November.

Luke Watson, the city’s community development director, said this week the public hearing on the project, which has been designed by San Diego-based Ambient Communities, is set for 5 p.m., Nov. 15.

The hearing was moved up an hour from the normal 6 p.m. start time to give the commission enough time to finish the hearing without having to continue it to another day, he said.

Workshops on the project, which has been dubbed Altair, have drawn large crowds and those people — a mix of environmentalists, business owners and concerned citizens — should show up in force for the hearing.

Staff has been studying the development — which includes 1,750 housing units, an elementary school site, trails, bike paths and a public park that feeds into Main Street — for years.

One of the more controversial elements of the project to date has been the impact it may have on the area’s mountain lion population, which is already hemmed in by development.

Ambient has tried to address those concerns by offering to pay for a study that would look at the feasibility of a mountain lion crossing near the city’s welcome sign on Interstate 15.

The company also has agreed to buy land that would be donated as open space.

Ambient purchased the acreage from the Firestone family, which years ago talked of teaming with an impresario to open a wild west theme park on the property.

The company has said the housing mix will be similar to its projects in San Diego County’s Mission Valley, which has been transformed in the last few decades into a hotbed for high-density condo projects.

To handle traffic generated by the new residents, Ambient will be building the western bypass, a roadway that will run from Temecula Parkway to Rancho California Road.

It also will be building an elementary school that is expected to be one of the more technologically advanced in the region. The idea, according to Ambient principal Rob Honer, is the school will be a magnet for young families who want to be close to the buzz of Old Town.

The Rancho California Water District has already determined it will be able to service the new development.

Some of the other impacts, such as air quality and traffic, are considered “significant” per the state’s environmental rules but the city may decide the benefits of the project — thousands of people within walking distance of the revenue-generating shops and restaurants of Old Town — outweigh the negatives.

To help tilt the scales, Ambient has proposed giving the city a 55-acre parcel on the southern tip of its acreage that could be developed as a college campus or public park similar to the Santa Rosa Plateau, which could connect with the planned Waves to Wineries trail.

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