28 May 2015

Tres Hermanos Ranch Development Dispute

As reported by Marianne Napoles in last Saturday's Champion, claims by The Hoffman Company, the firm retained by the City of Industry to sell its 2,500-acre Tres Hermanos Ranch along Grand Avenue between Chino Hills and Diamond Bar concerning the maximum number of housing units allowable in the latter city have been grossly exaggerated.

Diamond Bar city manager James DeStefano was quoted by the paper as asserting that 628 housing units were the maximum allowable under city codes and that no commercial development was permissible.  He characterized Hoffman's assertions that up to 5,000 units were possible as "grossly in error, super grossly in error."  DeStefano followed up by stating, "our numbers have not changed . . . nowhere in the world are we going to have 5,000 homes."

Diamond Bar's city limits encapsulate 720 acres of the ranch, while those of Chino Hills envelop 1,700 acres.  The Champion reported that the latter could involve 467 units on 55 acres based on a development transfer from the southern portion of Chino Hills along Butterfield Ranch Road.

Previous statements, however, have indicated that this was a "parking" of that development transfer and that no concrete plans were in place for allowing development of that nature in Tres Hermanos.  Moreover, as the article noted, master plans for any development on the ranch would have to be submitted to review to the respective cities.

Chino Hills council member Art Bennett, a member of the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority, a long-standing advisory agency composed of one representative from Chino Hills, City of Industry and Diamond Bar was quoted as stating that the future development of the ranch offered "a window of opportunity for Chino Hills" and that "this is the only time we'll be able to exert any kind of pressure on a developer to provide us with what we are asking for."

This statement is especially relevant in this era of severe drought, increasing risk of wildfire, and growing traffic congestion.  Obviously, it could be years before any concrete proposals are put forward for development at Tres Hermanos.  But, if water supply remains tight because of long-term drought (which many climatologists suggest is the scenario for this region), can approval of up to nearly 1,100 units (using the tentative high-end figures provided in the article) make any sense?

Moreover, wildland fire risk is heightened by continuing drought, tinder-dry fuel, and the propensity for higher winds in elevated areas like Tres Hermanos.

Finally, what are the realistic probable traffic solutions for the ranch?  Grand Avenue is the only artery through the property and, while access to the northeast in the Diamond Bar portion towards Chino Hills Parkway and then to the 60 Freeway is obvious, traffic patterns could prove to be very problematic for any development, particularly in the Chino Hills section.

Claire Schlotterbeck of Hills for Everyone, which has been, for decades, fighting to preserve open space for recreation and as a buffer against over-development, was quoted in the article as requesting, at a recent Conservation Authority meeting, that a "visioning" process be introduced so that local residents can weigh in on what they think should be done with the land.

Schlotterbeck observed that many residents surrounding Tonner Canyon and Tres Hermanos want to see the land preserved as an important natural resource amidst massive suburban development.  Her statement to end the article is notable: "If people don't want to see Tonner Canyon bulldozed, they need to be paying attention."

Obviously, there are conflicting views here.  Bennett appeared to be suggesting that Chino Hills can only request mitigation or seek benefits from developers, but not stop housing projects from coming to Tres Hermanos and Tonner Canyon.  Schlotterbeck looked to be advocating for preservation for recreation and habitat protection in these areas.

Coming years will bring these issues to a head as one of the last remaining major open areas in our region is sold and plans promoted to Chino Hills and Diamond Bar for development that, by any standard, will be large-scale.  Resource (especially water) issues, fire risk and protection, and traffic concerns will be among the most important elements of the discussion.

As Schlotterbeck indicated, those who are concerned for the future of these two cities and the property in question have to be aware and, more importantly, engaged as part of the discussion.

Large-scale housing projects have been stopped before, with a prominent local examples of recent vintage being in the Newhall-Santa Clarita area.  Tres Hermanos could be a similar situation and time will tell if that is the case.

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