Long-contentious Butterfly Village project shows some hope.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Last week, Monterey County and the HYH Corp. agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by HYH against the county, in which HYH claimed that the county had treated it unfairly with respect to its proposed Butterfly Village development project. This settlement is likely to conclude a 20year dispute over development in the unincorporated area of the county just north of Salinas.
The announced settlement will require a major redesign of the proposed Butterfly Village project.
Both LandWatch Monterey County and the Rancho San Juan Opposition Coalition (RSJOC) have fought the inappropriate development of the Rancho San Juan area for years. Most notably, LandWatch and RSJOC have mounted two successful referendum campaigns against proposed developments in the Rancho San Juan area, to make sure bad developments weren’t allowed to proceed.
LandWatch and RSJOC agree that the county-HYH settlement is in the best interests of the community for two important reasons:
• The overhaul of the project as proposed in the settlement makes it a much better development.
• Policies in the draft County General Plan (GPU5), which is currently undergoing environmental review, restrict further subdivision in the non-coastal north county planning area; restrict further subdivision in the “greater Rancho San Juan area,” such that Butterfly Village will not be just the first phase of the larger Rancho San Juan project; and prohibit the subdivision of agricultural land of statewide importance for other than agricultural purposes.
Both of these elements are critical. Together, they will ensure that the water and traffic impacts of the earlier project design are significantly reduced. From the beginning, impacts to water supply, water quality, and traffic have been at the heart of public opposition.
All five county supervisors expressed their support for the settlement and had glowing words of praise for everyone who had worked to reach it, including county staff, the developer, and LandWatch and RSJOC reps.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Fernando Armenta also stated, “This settlement is important to the county because it eliminates the potentially significant financial exposure that the county would have faced from ongoing litigation.” However, he emphasized that “the Board of Supervisors maintains full discretion over the General Plan policies it will decide later this year.”
Armenta’s comments underscore an important point: litigation cannot legally constrain the legislative discretion of elected officials. Indeed, the outcome of last year’s ballot measures made it clear that the voters want their elected officials to make the important decisions concerning growth in the unincorporated county, and that the voters generally don’t want to make key planning decisions at the ballot box. That said, the voters also made it very clear that they reject the expansive and irresponsible growth that the supervisors’ earlier plan would have allowed.
Monterey County is on the road to adopting a compromise General Plan. Last Nov. 6, the Board of Supervisors gave its final direction to staff on the policy language for that compromise plan. Supervisors voted unanimously to issue that direction. Final action can’t legally occur until after an EIR is completed, but the compromise plan that can end the ballot box wars of the past five years is now moving ahead. LandWatch will participate in the review of the EIR and will urge new policy language to restrict cultivation on steep slopes and other improvements that may be borne out by the environmental analysis.
What is most important, though, is that board members who voted for the compromise General Plan keep their promise concerning the strong policies in the current draft.
In addition to the important policies protecting North County and productive agricultural lands, the current draft includes policies restricting further subdivision in the Toro Planning Area on Highway 68, and a cap on the number of new lots created through further subdivision in Carmel Valley.
There will be a series of public meetings over the summer months to review the EIR for the compromise General Plan, followed by other public meetings for the ultimate approval of the plan by the Board of Supervisors. It is crucial for the public to participate.
LandWatch and the RSJOC are cautiously optimistic that supervisors will honor their promise to adopt the language in the current compromise plan. It will certainly be extremely difficult for them to do otherwise in light of our good-faith participation in the Butterfly Village settlement before General Plan’s adoption. But as Yogi Berra so famously said, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over!”