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Rams Hill Proposed Development

County says Specific Plan Amendment Process could take "years"

 

Last updated 4/10/2024 at 1:01pm

An audience of approximately 50 interested Borregans attended the Community Sponsor Group meeting on April 4, to hear details from Rams Hill about their request to the County for a Specific Plan Amendment. The owner of the development, T2 Borrego, is seeking County approval to vacate 1,600 acres of open space, replace it with a new easement, and build 600 homes intermittently through the current open space, according to County Project Manager Daniella Hofreiter. The property in question is the slope at the east and sound end of the Rams Hill development and abuts Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Rams Hill's Senior Vice President Cathy Milkey and CEO Shannon Smith presented for 20 minutes about the proposal and Rams Hill's commitment to the Borrego Springs community.

The ask: Rams Hill wants to relocate its current dedicated open space and create a new "desert-centric neighborhoods" on its south slope for buyers who "don't want to live on a golf course." Such neighborhoods would "broaden the appeal of Rams Hill," according to Smith. To that end, Rams Hill would preserve 110 acres of mitigation land for every 100 acres of open space it sets aside from its original agreement.

According to Ms. Hofreiter from the County, the Specific Plan Amendment would retain 1,196 acres of open space in a new configuration. She called the proposal very "nuanced" because vacation of an open space agreement is "not a thing that we [at the County] take likely and we only approve such a vacation if the replacement is equivalent or better than what is there now."

The next step is for the County, which has 16 unfilled positions in its Planning Department, to review the submitted application and studies, listen to community input, and then issue a scoping letter which will be public record. Rams Hill will then respond to any concerns outlined by the County. According to Hofreiter, "This process can take years." She notes that the current request is for a plan amendment, not a major use permit. Thus, no dirt will move until much further along in the permitting process.

A show of hands indicated that two-thirds of the public in attendance at the meeting were opposed to the plan to vacate the open space and build homes there. Approximately, one-tenth of the crowd supported the idea. Half of the audience identified themselves as Rams Hill residents. About another 20 attendees logged on to the meeting via Zoom, including Colorado Desert District Superintendent Ray Lennox.

Lennox stated that State Parks wants to stay apprised of the proposal. Two CSG Members – Nancy McRae and Bill Berkley – recused themselves from discussion about the project since they own property in Rams Hill. Berkley was also part of the team that bought Rams Hill's 3000 acres, golf course, and clubhouse in 2014 for $842,000. What was then a dry course and bankrupt development has since turned around to rank #91 out of all golf courses in the United States.

Smith pointed out that Rams Hill is not asking for permission to build any additional homes outside of its original agreement, rather, the developer wants to change the location of 600 homes. This drew some ire from community members who wanted to know why the developer isn't focused on building the empty lots at Rams Hill that are ready to go.

In public comments, Borregan Pam Wiedenkeller pointed out that if a market existed for "desert-centric" neighborhoods, Indian Head Ranch would not have 40 out of its 64 lots sitting vacant. She stated that many of Rams Hill's already graded lots that are ready to build are not on the golf course and have "jaw-dropping" views. She described the proposal as an attempt to "grab land" dedicated as permanent open space, which would leave a "1,600 acre scar on the landscape that will never heal."

Other issues to overcome with more build-out at Rams Hill include water supply and fire protection. Smith asserted that the water "crisis is over," based on his interpretation of information shared at the Borrego Water District's town hall. He stated that Rams Hill had acquired water rights throughout the valley and reduced water usage by 54% since acquiring the development and re-opening the golf course and clubhouse in 2014.

The former owner of Rams Hill purchased land on Yaqui Pass for a second fire station, something the County said at the time would be required before more homes could be built in the development. The current owners are initiating talks with Cal Fire about fire protection in the south-end of the valley. The Specific Plan Amendment also calls for an additional golf course and golf cottages that could be rented like hotel rooms.

In 2019, T2 Borrego filed an application with the county for a development agreement which allows an applicant to develop over a long period of time in exchange for a public benefit. The CSG previously recommended approval of the development agreement, which included a request to vacate the current open space. In addition to other measures, Rams Hill has proposed to the County that it will provide $100,000 in grants for low-cost, renewable energy projects for Borregans who do not live at Rams Hill. Rams Hill is also pledging $500,000 to fund a local nonprofit to work on creating recreational opportunities and tourism related to fallowed land in the valley. The County has not yet approved the development agreement.

The CSG makes recommendations to the County and is not a regulatory body.

The CSG voted to send a letter to County Supervisor Jim Desmond documenting issues the community would like the County to consider regarding the Specific Plan Amendment request. According to CSG Member Jim Dax, "One thing is for sure, this is going to be a long process." CSG Member Judy Haldeman thanked the Rams Hill representatives for their "really clear optimistic presentation" and wished them "the best of luck." She noted that with Borrego Springs Resort and Club Circle courses fallow and dried out she wants to see "something bloom and bring progress to the town."

In other business, Borregan Nancy Burke was elected to an open seat on the CSG. Burke brings a wealth of urban planning experience, including a stint as a Planning Commissioner for the City of Glendale.

The next CSG meeting is at 5 p.m. on Thursday May 1, in the Borrego Springs Library's Community Room.

 
 
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