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Tuesday, Dec 6, 2022
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Will Housing Crisis Open Door to North County Development?

A 2,135-home project proposed just outside of San Marcos will go before the County Board of Supervisors in 2018, eight years after the board shot down another housing plan for the site.

But those behind the new proposal, called Newland Sierra, say much has changed. The project is smaller with a new look, with another important factor at play: The region’s housing prices are front and center in the public’s mind.

“During 2010, when the prior project went before the board, there were a couple of dynamics that were very different,” said Rita Brandin, senior vice president and development director for Newland Communities, the master developer. “The housing market was really, really stressed. Today we’re on the complete opposite side of that. We’re not only seeing huge housing demand, we have very little inventory coming online.”

Brandin said supporters in the surrounding area see that Newland Sierra, just off Interstate 15 and Deer Springs Road in the Twin Oaks Valley on the border with San Marcos, would help alleviate a home shortage that’s causing sky-high prices.

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Homes at Newland Sierra in today’s dollars would run from $400,000 to about $1 million, she said.

Supporters Have Various Reasons

Brandin said a recent event in support of the project drew a crowd of 100, representing a broad swath of nearby residents, from business owners fed up with hemorrhaging employees to other areas with less expensive housing to millennials in danger of being priced out of the region.

“They see a project like this as an opportunity for them to have housing in the future,” Brandin said.

According to Brandin, not all supporters fall in this camp. Some are wary of growth, but like the community improvements that are part of the project, such as widening Deer Springs Road and reconstructing a nearby interchange.

Yet, she added, the project owes much of its backing to concerns over housing prices and long commutes facing those who work in San Diego but live in more affordable areas like Riverside. Some of these supporters learned about the project through Newland meetings with chamber of commerce groups, rotary clubs, business groups and additional organizations, according to Brandin.

Are these backers motivated enough to attend board meetings?

“We have a strong supporter group who definitely will be out publicly in force to support this project,” Brandin said. “We’ve been very engaged.”

Brandin said the group isn’t necessarily tapping into the national trend of self-proclaimed YIMBYs (Yes in My Backyard) strongly in favor of development, a reaction to NIMBYs, or (Not in My Backyard), that dominate community meetings. But, she added, there seems to be growing recognition among residents that not all development should be stopped.

Gauging Support

So will awareness of the housing crunch move the needle?

Regionally, that hasn’t been the case — yet, anyway, according to Borre Winckel, president and CEO of the Building Industry Association of San Diego County.

“We are not nearly getting enough traction on housing reform to cause more than a drop in the cost-reduction bucket,” Winckel said. “With exception of the city of San Diego, no other jurisdiction has made any bold move. Here is the proof. For the past five years, the first seven months of production has averaged just 2,500 housing permits, excluding the city of San Diego. This shows that the region is not paying attention to the housing challenge that worsens by the day,” Winckel said.

Opponents See Sprawl

The group Stop Newland Sierra Development did not return a request to comment regarding how political winds and rising housing prices could impact the development’s chances. Newland also faces opposition from the owners of the Golden Door spa, south of the proposed site, which has argued the development amounts to unneeded sprawl. It hired the San Diego law firm Latham & Watkins to oppose the project.

Winckel said the emerging understanding of the housing crisis hurting the region could be offset through the Golden Door buying negative publicity.

The battle for the public’s support could be long-lasting. Opponents have indicated that even if the Board of Supervisors green lights the project, it would seek a ballot initiative for voters to overturn the decision.

Newland also argues that its project differs greatly than what came before. For one it calls for 20 percent fewer homes, and it would set aside 1,200 acres — 61 percent of the property — as open space.

It would also be the county’s first carbon-neutral community, according to the master developer, entailing solar panel systems atop each home, garages with electric vehicle charging stations and an electric bike share program.

“The unfortunate thing for is that there was a project previously proposed for this site that was going through it process during probably one of the most trying times in the housing recession.

That was 2010. We started over on the planning, and made a lot of improvements compared to what that project proposed.”

And, she added: “We’re in a very different situation with regards to demand for housing.”

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