This article was originally published on the Press Enterprise website on March 24, 2017 by Aaron Claverie (link to the article).
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What should become of 55-acre parcel in Temecula? How about an ecological reserve?
There is growing support for a plan that would preserve a 55-acre parcel of land west of the Temecula Parkway interchange, in effect creating Temecula’s version of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve near Murrieta.
“There’s a lot to be said for open space,” said Temecula Mayor Maryann Edwards during a recent phone interview.
The parcel is owned by San Diego’s Ambient Communities, which is working to build a large housing development west of Old Town on 165 acres. The project will feature more than 1,500 housing units, an elementary school site, a park, 80 acres of open space and a new road — the Western Bypass — that will connect Temecula Parkway with Vincent Moraga Drive.
Ambient has long labeled the parcel, the southern tip of its land holdings, as a “civic site,” land that would be reserved for a beneficial public use, such as a hospital, school site or convention center.
But during the course of completing the environmental documentation for the project — which involves studying its cumulative impacts on traffic, wildlife and air quality — it became clear that there wouldn’t be much space left over for construction.
Of the 55 acres, only 19 are available for development and of that, only 9 acres are considered “buildable.”
“We can’t jeopardize the wildlife corridor,” Edwards said, talking about some of the restrictions on the land that help preserve a linkage for migratory animals, such as mountain lions.
At a recent meeting, Councilman Mike Naggar suggested the open space idea to address the concerns of environmentalists, who prefer no development on the land, and deliver on campaign promises, which included opening up land for public access via new trail systems.
“Everybody gets something and it’s great,” he said last week. “However, I was very clear, should litigation ensue, all bets are off.”
As with most large projects in the state, the threat of litigation over some aspect of the environmental impact documentation associated with the project is a very real possibility.
Naggar said that if a suit is filed, the city could fall back on the old plan for the land, which could be used to entice a medical service provider or university.
Lynn Cullens, executive director of the Sacramento-based Mountain Lion Foundation, said leaving the land as open space is the “right thing to do” but she expressed some reservations about a trail system.
“It’s a complicated situation,” she said.
If you create a place for people to access the land, there would be increased interest in the property, which she said could lead to more people venturing off into protected areas of the nearby Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, which is traversed by mountain lions.
“It’s the last remaining viable corridor for mountain lions from the south and east to make their way into the Santa Ana mountains,” she said. “It’s not just any corridor, it’s the last viable corridor.”
Naggar said there are tens of thousands of people in the city who want access to that property and fencing it off completely is not an option.
“If the city, the developer and the environmental community can’t come to terms, then what are we doing here?” he said, adding that the open space trail plan represents a “win across the board” that would enhance the mountain lion corridor.
According to Naggar, the city’s Planning Commission could consider the open space option, along with the rest of the Altair plans, in a couple of months.
Following a public hearing and a commission recommendation, the project will be brought before the council for approval.
Edwards said she expects there will be broad support for the open space plan, but the hospital or university are attractive as well.
“There’s no drawback here,” she said.
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