Developers' plans for Mt.Toro area head to Planning Commission.
Thursday, July 4, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell.
Photo: White Hat- Stan Corda calls a recent citizens'' committee decision to rezone famland near his family''s place "unbelievable."
Stan Corda bristles when hopeful developers suggest that ag land in the Toro area-the Highway 68 corridor and the northern section of River Road-is only marginal farmland.
Corda''s family has farmed a 200-acre River Road ranch since 1904, growing strawberries, lettuce, sugar beets, onions and beans, among other crops.
Last week, a citizen''s advisory committee for the Toro area endorsed several property owners'' requests to rezone 875 acres of farmland for houses. The recommendations of the citizens'' panel, officially called a Land Use Advisory Committee (LUAC), will now be forwarded to the County Planning Commission.
The 875 acres sit along River Road, between Pine Canyon Road and Parker Canyon Road. The potential home lots are situated above the Corda Ranch.
Michael Cling, an attorney for the property owners, described the foothills as "marginal" farmland. "The valley floor-that''s the richest agricultural land," Cling says. "The land on the bench tends to be steeper and doesn''t have the nutrients. In terms of the yields and quality of the crops, it''s not the same quality as the valley floor."
Corda disagrees with the attorney''s definition.
"My interpretation of marginal land is land where you can''t raise a decent crop, or you''re limited as to what crops you can grow and it''s not profitable to farm," Corda says. "But I farmed that land. You name it, I grew it, and every crop did really well. It just bothers the heck out of me that they''re trying to say it''s marginal land."
Coda calls the LUAC''s decision "unbelievable."
"I am really disgusted by the committee," he says. "They didn''t even try to save this land. And now there''s 875 acres of farmland that they approved for development, which is a shame."
Expect late fireworks in the Toro area on July 8. That''s the date when the panel will likely vote to turn even more farmland into subdivisions.
One of the most contentious agenda items scheduled for the July 8 meeting is a request to rezone the 797-acre Marks Ranch land. Mike Fletcher, who developed the Las Palmas subdivision, wants to build 275 houses on the hillside.
"This is a beautiful area, and there are a lot of people out here who are trying to ruin it-they really are," says Michael Grant, former chair of the Toro LUAC who cast the lone vote against the rezoning of the 875-acre parcel. "We all would like money, but at some point you have to abide by your principles."
Grant resigned from his post as committee chair on June 25, a day after the last meeting. Only three of the five members of the Toro LUAC had shown up-Grant, Art Barrientos and Joseph Hotz.
Margot Nunes called in sick. Richard Hughett was out of town.
"I was literally in tears," says Grant, a retired architect and general contractor who has sat on the advisory panel for 12 years. "The committee should be dumped. It really should."
Grant remains on the panel, but he''ll no longer hold the title of chair.
Hughett says he''s not familiar with the hot-button 875 acres.
"I couldn''t comment on that because I wasn''t at that meeting," he says. "I didn''t study those requests. I will be there for the next go-round, and I will make my decisions at that time."
Hotz, a local attorney, says homes should be built in the Toro area.
"There''s a housing shortage in Monterey County," he says. "This is an area that is not pristine wilderness. This is a suburban area. There is considerable interest in new subdivision along River Road."
Art Barrientos, who works for Ocean Mist Farms, refused to discuss either the June 24 meeting or Grant''s resignation.
"At this point in time I have no comment," he said.
Nunes did not return phone calls.
Although the committee members interviewed by the Weekly said they haven''t made any decisions about upcoming property owners'' requests, Grant says he expects the majority of the group to endorse subdivisions over farmland on July 8.
"Obviously I''m not going to vote to change these land-use designations, but I think the others will," Grant says.
He says he''s still in shock from the last meeting.
"I was sitting at the head table looking down [at attendees] and I literally saw peoples'' mouths drop open," he says.
Cling says his clients have no specific plans for the 875 acres.
"There''s no developer waiting in the wings," he says. "This whole exercise is simply about getting an appropriate zoning designation on the property, to have the ability to make some plans."
A "Dear Friends and Neighbors" letter written in May 2001 by the Neubert and Tarp families-two of the River Road property owners-suggests otherwise.
"Our goal is to utilize our property in a way to create a clustered housing ''village'' with ... small groups of homes clustered under, and amongst, the oaks, equestrian facilities, hiking and biking trails, and golf course. We would like to donate our property for a sheriff substation and additional fire station. Our vision over the next 20 years would also include a cluster of wine tasting rooms adjacent to River Road."
Stan Corda doesn''t share their vision. "This agricultural land should be saved," he says. "I just hate to see good farmland covered up with homes. After all, there''s only so much farmland and once it''s covered with asphalt and homes, it''s lost forever."