Pastures of Discontent
Residents organize against proposed Corral de Tierra shopping center.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Development has long been a hot-button subject in Corral de Tierra, the valley that John Steinbeck called the “Pastures of Heaven.”
Later this fall, the county Planning Commission will hold a hearing on a 10-building shopping center at the corner of Corral de Tierra Road and Highway 68, first proposed in 2004.
Local real estate broker Eric Phelps is spearheading the plan for a 126,000-square-foot “village” that would include a high-end supermarket, a drug store, coffee and sandwich shops, restaurants, a bank and 508 parking spaces.
But some neighbors say Phelps’ plan is over the top, and are organizing in opposition.
“A gas station and an upscale market would satisfy 90 percent of the convenience needs of people out here,” says Jim Eagle, a 27-year Corral de Tierra resident.
Eagle worries there isn’t enough water to sustain household wells down the line – let alone a big commercial center. Other neighbors fear more traffic along congested Highway 68 and noisy delivery trucks.
Opponents have started a petition drive and placed signs near the intersection advertising their newly launched website, www.hwy68buzz.org. One neighbor made a PowerPoint presentation that warns, “Pastures of Heaven will turn into a parking lot from hell.”
But other residents are just as passionate in their support for the project.
Gary Pybas, a resident of the Highway 68 corridor for 44 years, says he wants to shop without having to drive to Monterey or Salinas. “It looks nice,” he said of Phelps’ proposal. “It is kind of rustic and rural looking. I think it will fit in well there.”
In July, the county’s Land Use Advisory Committee approved the shopping center, 3-2. But the proposal violates a county ordinance that prevents properties in a zoning district known as “B-8” from subdividing, or using more than 1992 levels of water. Phelps says he needs to subdivide to bring in investors, and his original plan would have used more water than allowed. (More on his proposal is at www.corraldetierra.com.)
He’s since embraced a water conservation and retention plan that he says will replenish the area’s groundwater. He says the new plan will meet LEED Silver green building standards and comply with B-8 water rules. But he’s still asking the county to remove his property from the B-8 zone in order to subdivide the lot.
“I think the Board of Supervisors should look at this as a model project,” Phelps says.
Amy White, executive director of LandWatch Monterey County, says she’s skeptical the water retention plan will really perform as promised. “If you say it is going to work and it doesn’t, the buildings are already there,” she says.
Resident Beverly Bean says Phelps could use less water by scaling back. “It needs to be negotiated down to something reasonable.”
But the developer says a smaller shopping center wouldn’t be as charming. “You are going to wind up with a strip mall,” he says. “And you are still going to have to drive because you don’t have your bank, you don’t have your drugstore.”
County planner John Ford says his department still welcomes public comments on the proposal, which will be forwarded to the Planning Commission.