30 April 2013

Housing Market Recovery and Carbon Canyon Project Revivals

It has been reported that in some areas the housing market has seen increased activity indicating that the situation has improved markedly from the 2008 crash.  Consequently, it is not surprising to see that projects in Carbon Canyon are being revived.

The most notable of these is in Brea, where the 162-unit Madrona subdivision, formerly known as Canyon Crest, is coming to a city council vote, probably in June, after an appeal of a narrow 3-2 planning commission approval in 2008 was suspended after the economic free fall and the Triangle Complex Fire took place. 

While this project would require an unprecedented three "statements of overriding consideration" to unavoidable significant impacts under California Environmental Quality Act criteria (and we should take note that Governor Brown is looking to make CEQA less inhibiting to economic development), there is no way to know whether this project will be 3-2 for or against, which is what some are thinking will be the probabilities.

Meantime, it has been said that groundbreaking could begin soon on the Canyon Hills project by Foremost Communities, a 76-unit subdivision that will be built north of Carbon Canyon Road and west of Canyon Hills Road, between Sleepy Hollow and Oak Tree Estates.

It should be pointed out that the first iteration of Canyon Hills was approved by San Bernardino County in 1987 (yes, 25 years ago!)  A tentative tract map was issued two years later and a final map in 1997.  Now, matters have changed slightly in Carbon Canyon over that long span of time, much less in Chino Hills and elsewhere and the traffic counts, for example, on Carbon Canyon Road are just a little bit higher than they were then.

But, the beauty (facetiously expressed) of the process is that, once a tract map is on the books, the project can, for all intents and purposes, be built as approved at any time thereafter—even if the conditions in the area have completely changed.

Oh, and one other change--the Canyon Hills project is 141 acres and, as recently as 2008, when D. B. Horton owned the site, 100 acres of it was slated for "open space," which can mean manufactured slopes and landscaped areas, not necessarily "natural areas."  But now, that open space total has been slashed 30% to 70 acres!

As for Madrona/Canyon Crest, it gets even better.  Though new planning policies for the City of Brea and Carbon Canyon specifically have been created in recent years, this project gets grandfathered in under the older plans because it was first proposed eons (well, seemingly) ago. 

So, again, even though the conditions are totally different now, the projects don't have to be.  And, who says this is a tough climate for developers and builders to work with; if anything, trying to preserve communities for overdevelopment is by far the tougher slog—just look around and see who has been winning that contest over the decades!

Meantime, the smaller Fieldstone project of 28 units on 35 acres, just east of Western Hills Country Club across Fairway Drive and north (and west, at some points) of Carbon Canyon Road is also likely to be built some day.

And, now, another old proposal rises from the ashes:  as reported here previously and reiterated in the 19 April edition of The Champion, there is a project for 107 houses on 537 acres, with an application sent to the city in January, on the south side of Carbon Canyon Road across from Canyon Hills Road and between Sleepy Hollow and Mountain View Estates (the older tract on Canon Lane south of Route 142.)  This is in the early stages, but will be making its merry way through the development process with Chino Hills in coming months.

So, let's do a little math, shall we?

Canyon Hills = 76 houses
Stonefield = 28 houses

Approved = 104 houses

Madrona = 162 houses
New project = 107 houses

Proposed = 269 houses

Hmmmm . .  . this adds up to 373 dwellings.  Multiply that by, say, 4 persons per unit and you have almost 1,200 new residents. 

And, how many car trips would be added to a two-lane state highway that cannot be expanded and is already packed for several commuting hours? 

And, then there'll have to be additional traffic signals already sited for Fairway Drive and Canyon Hills Road at their intersections with Carbon Canyon Road.  While these will facilitate residents living near these roads getting onto an increasingly crowded state highway, it will also mean slower commute times on Carbon Canyon Road and more idling on it when the lights are red.

And, how much pollution is generated by the construction and by the presence of more houses and people and their cars?

And, will the property tax revenues be enough to counter the infrastructure maintenance (schools, road maintenance, etc.) for the two cities?

And, with water supplies being threatened by extensive, long-term drought not just locally and regionally but through the entire Western United States and conservation being urged, even though we're told by cities and developers that there's enough water for lots of new housing projects . . .

And, what about the quality of life in Carbon Canyon, which, presumably, draws its residence because of its contrast to suburban and city life and yet, with these new projects, will or threatens to become just like those areas and, thereby, losing its fundamental and essential character?

Is this the future of Carbon Canyon?

Well, for those who care, there is still the ability to speak up with concerns to the cities of Brea and Chino Hills about Madrona and the as-yet unnamed project of 107 units across from Canyon Hills. 

This can be done for the former at the upcoming city council meeting, which will be announced here where the final vote on the 2008 appeal will take place. 

For the Chino Hills project, as a new application, this can be done during the public comment period, the planning commission public hearing, and the city council public hearing.

Madrona already has three (actually four, with two bundled together) unavoidable adverse impacts that have to be subject to "statements of overriding consideration" to be approved—and this has never been done before in Brea.

The new Chino Hills project would almost certainly have at least two (traffic and project-generated pollution.)

In either case (or any case, for that matter), the existence of these unavoidable significant adverse impacts are, by the criteria of CEQA in and of themselves grounds for rejection of the projects.  The cities of Brea and Chino Hills have no legal (or other) responsibility or duty to approve them

Nothing that can be offered in statements of overriding consideration in terms of benefits furnished by developers to other parts of the city in exchange for these projects can mitigate the damage done. 

If these two projects are approved, the possibility/probability of nearly 400 houses in Carbon Canyon would damage it irrevocably and irreparably.

Now, the owners of Madrona, being a bankrupt firm under State of Idaho receivership, probably have no intention of building anything--getting that project approval and tract map filed, however, will raise the value of the land significantly and someone, someday could then build.

The same may not be true for the unnamed Chino Hills project—the owner may be raring to go whenever an approval and map are a done deal.

Even if one of these doesn't happen, 107 or 162 houses is still a game changer for the Canyon.

There is a point where enough is enough.  Anyone driving the road between 6 and 8 a.m. and 4 to 6:30 p.m., more or less, can tangibly see where we've had enough.  Those thinking about pollution, school funding, water supply, disappearing open and future passive recreational space and other issues know there is more to the picture.

And, it's a picture that could increasingly become more and more clouded.

1 comment:

Caynon Native said...

Paul is right. We all need to be like the Lorax and "speak for the trees", for the hills, and for each other. Even if we lose, we will have taken the responsibility for standing up for some basic values. When natural open space is gone, it is never replaced nor is it replaceable.