JOSHUA TREE — After 10 years of community outreach, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors has officially squashed a large-scale development project that would have brought 248 new homes into the desert landscape surrounding Friendly Hills Elementary School.

Development company YV105 LLC proposed the Altamira gated community back in 2009. The project was designed to span across 105 acres with each home priced around $250,000. At the time, partners in the project said potential homebuyers would include “empty nester” retired couples.

Some residents of the Morongo Basin were outraged about the plan, warning a community that large would affect traffic and commerce and eat up water resources; the plan originally called for each house to have a grass lawn, but that plan was later nixed by the developers.

“No one was supportive of the project; quite the opposite,” Janet Armstrong Johnston, one of the project opponents, said in a press release. “The developers had been previously warned in 2007 by a few community members that the design did not in any way suit the community.”

Dozens of public comments were sent to county planners, questioning the results of a 2014 study that green-lit the project, said Johnston. Developers also held numerous public meetings and discussions with Joshua Basin Water District staff and Center for Biological Diversity representatives about the environmental impacts of the relatively high-density housing project.

The Morongo Basin Municipal Advisory Council unanimously voted for a resolution in opposition to the project.

On April 7, 2016, the planning commission passed the project design and within days, more than 160 community members signed a petition to stop the development, Johnston said.

Community members formed an alliance, JT105, to stop the development. Johnston, a coordinator in the alliance, said she and many others wrote a 66-page document for a possible California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit, which was filed Oct. 28, 2016, after the board of supervisors approved the project.

“Then began the over two years of settlement discussions with the developer’s managing partner, Ron Schwartz,” Johnston said.

After discussing with multiple experts, including the Mojave Desert Land Trust, the developers decided to pull out of the project and the board of supervisors rescinded all of its approvals last month.

The developers still own the land and it is unclear what they will do with it.

(3) comments

idavidgraficks

Here's the longer version that was posted on FaceBook:

THANK YOU... IT IS DONE AND WE HAVE WON!!!

After 10 years of fighting, the community of Joshua Tree has prevailed against the threat of the Altamira Gated Community. The Board of Supervisors voted on April 16, 2019, to rescind all approvals for the project. The developers, YV105 LLC, still own the property. If they decide to pursue another development, they would have to start the design, environmental studies, and approval process from scratch, likewise for anyone who might purchase the property.

The development was proposed to surround Friendly Hills Elementary School. 105 acres lush with Joshua trees, creosote, cacti, yuccas, and wildlife would have been bladed. If not left as a dust field like so many failed developments, 248 homes would have been shoehorned onto 10,000 square foot lots (0.23 acre). Its maze of cul-de-sacs would have been encircled with wall and fence, keeping out wildlife and neighbors.

In 2007, the developers approached a few community members, and were told that the project would not fit with the community. They returned in February 2009 and presented the project to 100 community members; no one was in support.

By March 2016, the San Bernardino County Planning Staff reviewed the proposed tract map, and pushed through a Mitigated Negative Declaration, rather than requiring an Environmental Impact Report, ignoring the obvious inconsistencies of the project with both the County General Plan, Development Code, and the Joshua Tree Community Plan. Over 60 well-written public comments were sent in questioning the conclusions of the Initial Study. The Morongo Basin Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) unanimously approved a resolution against the project, written by members Pat Flanagan and Richard Lutringer.

Only three Planning Commissioners were present at the first Planning Commission meeting to witness hours of well-spoken public testimony by dozens of citizens. After hard questions from the Commissioners, the Developers asked for the hearing to be continued, obviously hoping for the other two Commissioners to be more sympathetic.

San Bernardino is a county spread over wide and far, with very diverse goals and objectives for land use. Joshua Tree also has the responsibility of considering the wildlife and human visitors that move in and out of the National Park. Residents can only vote on one Supervisor, who then appoints only one Planning Commissioner. The other Commissioners and Supervisors have no direct interest or understanding of local conditions, and cannot be held accountable for their votes, even when the project is specific to Joshua Tree. Unincorporated communities, like Joshua Tree, have only their Community Plans, which are legally adopted land use documents, to truly represent and protect the community’s interests. The County staff and elected officials are entrusted to enforce these Plans.

On April 7, 2016 the Planning Commission passed the project 4 to 1 (Smith). The clock started ticking, and the public had 11 days to fundraise, write, and submit an Appeal of the Planning Commission Decision to the Board of Supervisors.

The community organized: within 3 days over 160 signed a petition and the “JT105 Alliance” was formed. Janet Armstrong Johnston jumped into the role of coordinator and along with Kip Duff, Gayle Austin, David Fick, Robert Rootenberg, and many others, wrote the 66 page Appeal document. Randy Polumbo generously donated the $1331 fee. Frantic calls and re-writes happened up to the last possible moment. The Appeal almost got stuck in Coachella Festival traffic but was submitted successfully 45 minutes before the deadline.

After a questionable hearing on September 13, 2016, where a possible 2 to 2 vote which would have stopped the project was not allowed to proceed, the Board of Supervisors held a second hearing on September 27. The absent Supervisor, who did not witness the hours of public testimony, returned with no questions and voted for the project. The project was passed 3 to 2 (Ramos and Lovingood).

http://resources.ca.gov/ceqa/more/faq.html CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, is a self-executing statute. Public agencies are entrusted with compliance with CEQA and its provisions are enforced, as necessary, by the public through litigation and the threat thereof.

The clock started ticking again, and The JT105 Alliance had 30 days to file a CEQA lawsuit. A GoFundMe account was started, and lawyer Babak Naficy was hired. 92 people contributed to the lawsuit fund. The lawsuit was successfully filed on October 28, 2016.

Then began over two years of respectful and cordial settlement discussions with the Developer’s managing partner, Ron Schwartz, trying to find a solution that the community could embrace. YV105 listed the land for sale, with the tract map included as part of the sale. The Mojave Desert Land Trust helped in discussing possible conservation easements, but in the end the Developers decided to avoid court and clean the slate, and we thank them.

The JT105 Alliance wants to thank the over 250 people, including so many of you, that contributed time, expertise, and money over the years, with a special shout out to The Morongo Basin Conservation Association. The lawyer is all paid, and the remaining $193 in the account was donated to MBCA.

Mark Simmons

Great news indeed!! Joshua Tree doesn’t need a gated community. Way to fend off those greedy land developers! Nice work! Thank you!

Branson Hunter

The efforts of many people (including idavidgraficks) made this possible. Thanks to all those people too numerous to name. On another developing matter in Joshua Tree -- which will be discussed by the community for sure --is a 55 high-end Airstream trailer guest suites complete with 1,500-square-foot private lodge, two “back of house” structures, and a packaged water treatment plant. [So reports the local radio news station that the plan is being reviewed by the County Planning]. Given that the park experience 3 m visitors yearly and the park being FULL during tourism season, there may be good arguments for this project. I look forward to more discussion on this.

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