The Riverside County Planning Commission on Wednesday postponed a hearing on a general plan amendment that is being requested by the owner of a 51-acre parcel north of Wine Country’s Los Nogales Road, a zoning change that is opposed by a coalition of neighboring residents.
Staff made a recommendation to push back the hearing — which was rescheduled for March 21 — after receiving a letter late Tuesday from land-use attorney Ray Johnson.
Staff didn’t discuss the particulars of the letter but these sort of missives are often sent by attorneys if they spot some weak spots in the environmental documentation for a project that could form the basis for a lawsuit.
“In my 22 years as an environmental attorney in Southern California as well as my forty-eight years as an urban planner this is the first project I have ever seen based upon a Negative Declaration with no mitigation proposed and absolutely no evidence to support the conclusions, not even any evidence of the entity responsible for the preparation of the document,” Johnson wrote in the letter, which closes with a call for the county to require an environmental impact report.
The applicant, a Temecula-based custom-home builder, is looking to build a ridgeline tract of eight homes on the rectangular-shaped piece of land southeast of South Coast Winery Resort & Spa and Ponte Winery, acreage located within the Wine Country Community Plan.
The plan, which was adopted a few years ago, only allows up to five homes if they are clustered together and 75 percent of the land is planted with vineyards.
If the builder pursued a four-home development on 10-acre lots, which also is allowed in the plan, they would be required to plant 50 percent of the acreage with vines.
The applicant, Greg Koll, told the commission he is requesting the amendment because the land is ill-suited for a winery and doesn’t deserve to be in the wineries district.
“We’re completely surrounded by residential,” he said. “A winery does not make sense to us.”
Koll said the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, which represents 42 wineries and more than 60 growers, voted to approve the project and sent the county a letter of recommendation.
He also said the plans for the property, which would be served by a realigned Los Nogales that connects with Camino Del Vino to the east, call for 50 percent of the acreage to be planted with vineyards.
The coalition has said the proposed amendment would set a bad precedent for Wine Country that would give other landowners a blueprint for rezoning their property for high-density new home construction, which, they argue, runs counter to the aims of a community plan that was crafted to preserve the area’s agricultural roots.
Some members also have called into question the county’s study of the proposed amendment, saying there hasn’t been enough attention paid to the cut-through traffic the project would generate or the potential impact it may have on a blue-line stream that runs parallel to Los Nogales and land tied to the “Temecula Massacre.”
Koll told the commission he is prepared to address all the concerns raised by neighbors at the continued hearing.