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Friday, Mar 31, 2023

Co. Looks for Consensus on County Project

San Diego’s Newland Communities is planning what will likely be a downsized, more sustainable version of a controversial 2,630-home North County development that was rejected by county officials under a prior developer.

The company will be renaming the long-discussed project — previously known as Merriam Mountains with a proposed span of more than 2,300 unincorporated acres north of Escondido — and taking deliberate steps to ensure that government leaders and residents are all on board for the upcoming reconfiguration.

“We’re going to have several community workshops, probably in June and July,” said Rita Brandin, senior vice president and director of development with Newland Communities.

When a formal proposal is submitted to county planners, in late summer or early fall, the development will take up fewer acres — about 1,988 — and contain a larger variety of housing types arrayed in connected, walkable neighborhoods, Brandin said.

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The alterations stem from a combination of changes in consumer demand and California legislative moves to reduce greenhouse gases by encouraging the construction of denser, more environmentally sustainable residential and commercial projects.

The shifts, along with updates to the county’s general plan, had yet to take hold when the North County project was last reviewed by the county Board of Supervisors, which rejected Stonegate Development Co.’s plans for Merriam Mountains in March 2010.

Revised Application Still to Come

At the time it was rejected, Merriam Mountains had been in the works for a decade. County officials cited concerns that the development as proposed would not help the region meet the state’s revised pollution control standards, and also heard complaints from local residents about traffic and other potential negative impacts on the area’s rural character.

Formal applications for the revised project, with details including total acreage and number of homes, have not yet been filed with the county.

“Planning and development services staff has, however, been approached by and has been meeting with the Newland team on project concepts and next steps,” Gig Conaughton, spokesman for San Diego County, said in an email.

Brandin also discussed the North County project at a recent local gathering of the Urban Land Institute, where several developers spoke on the challenges of catering to an array of home-buying demographic groups while incorporating elements of walkability and sustainability in master-planned, multiphase developments.

Plans for the project’s re-do have not been finalized, Brandin said, but they will likely include varied lot sizes and configurations, with housing product types appealing to various buying groups, including young families and retirees. The development is also expected to have a neighborhood-serving commercial component of 80,000 to 90,000 square feet, likely including a grocery store, restaurants and service businesses like dry cleaners.

She said those elements are contained in other projects among the 38 that Newland has in development around the nation.

Merriam Mountains was among 28 U.S. master-planned communities acquired in January 2012 by Newland’s parent company, Newland Real Estate Group LLC, and its joint venture partner, North America Sekisui House LLC, a subsidiary of Japan’s largest homebuilder, Sekisui House Ltd.


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