Monterey County, developer and opponents reach agreement on controversial subdivision.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
After 20 years of legal battles and ballot-box fighting, county officials, land-use watchdogs and developer Moe Nobari have reached an agreement about the planned Butterfly Village subdivision. As part of a settlement, announced Tuesday, April 8, the county will pay Nobari $1 million and reduce his building permit fees. In return, Nobari, of HYH Corp., has pledged to build a “new urbanist” project with affordable housing and public parklands instead of a golf-and-residential subdivision between Salinas and Prunedale.
The settlement signals a truce in Monterey County’s long-standing land-use wars. For years LandWatch Monterey County and Rancho San Juan Opposition Coalition led the fight against Butterfly Village, ultimately suing the county to stop the project. On Tuesday, LandWatch and the coalition called the settlement a “very good compromise for the community,” and pledged to dismiss their lawsuit.
The revised project has retained the “green building” requirements of the original plan, and includes a sheriff’s substation, library and fire station. Other project changes include eliminating the golf course and replacing it with 342 acres of combined public park and open space, which will reduce the project’s water use and provide on-site storm-water detention; replacing the golf clubhouse, time-share units and incorporating adjacent multi-family dwellings to provide a community health and wellness center with senior living facilities; providing a 10-acre elementary school site, which means students won’t have to be bused or driven to school in another city; doubling the size of the neighborhood commercial area to increase job opportunities and reduce traffic (the thought being that people won’t have to drive as far to get to work or go shopping); and increasing affordable housing requirements, from 15 percent below market-rate to 32 percent.
Alana Knaster, deputy director of the county’s Resource Management Agency, says a public hearing on the changes likely will be held in June. At the hearing, county officials will outline the approval process for the development. HYH attorney Mark Blum says the development company doesn’t expect to break ground for at least two years.The Butterfly Village saga dates back to 1999, when Nobari sued and won a court order requiring the county to process a growth plan for the Rancho San Juan area. A few years later, Nobari proposed the largest development plan in county history. In late 2004, the Planning Commission gave the plan a unanimous “no” vote, advising county supervisors to turn down the 4,000-home plan and its first phase, the 1,077-home Butterfly Village golf-and-residential subdivision. Nobari threatened to sue if the county didn’t approve his plan, saying he could seek as much as $100 million in lost revenue for the years of delay. In early 2005, supervisors approved the entire Rancho San Juan development proposal.
In November 2005, 75 percent of voters rejected the entire Rancho San Juan development. But the day before the vote of the people, supervisors voted 4-1 (Supervisor Dave Potter voted no) to approve Butterfly Village, the first piece in the larger Rancho San Juan puzzle. The move was seen by many as an effort to subvert the intent of the measure, spearheaded by LandWatch and the opposition coalition. Shortly thereafter, both opposition groups began collecting signatures to put the 671-acre Butterfly Village development on the ballot.
In June 2007, voters overwhelming said no to Butterfly Village. Nobari sued to build the project; LandWatch and the opposition coalition sued to stop it. Nearly a year later, however, it looked like the warring factions staged a love-in at the supervisors’ meeting.
On April 8, Julie Engell, opposition coalition chairwoman, told supervisors that growth policies included in the current draft of the general plan, GPU 5, set the stage for the settlement agreement to occur. She called the settlement “a very good compromise for the community,” and said the new Butterfly Village proposal, along with supervisors’ commitment to GPU 5 policies, will help reduce water usage and traffic congestion.
LandWatch Executive Director Chris Fitz agreed that policies in GPU 5 are critical to the compromise. But a final version of the general plan has yet to be approved by supervisors, which means the land-use laws aren’t guaranteed. Fitz contends he’s confident supervisors will “fulfill this promise and compromise.”
“We made it very clear today,” Fitz says, “that the policies in the current draft of the general plan, specifically three policies in the plan, are integral to our agreement: the promise to limit subdivision in the non-coastal North County planning area to existing, legal lots of record; the commitment to limit subdivision in the Rancho San Juan area to Butterfly Village; and the protection of ag land, not to subdivide ag land if it’s of statewide importance. These three policies are really integral to this agreement.”