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Clash over plan to add more housing in North County's Harmony Grove

Posted at 6:27 PM, Jul 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-25 21:27:29-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - San Diego County Supervisors appeared to be on track Wednesday to approve three new housing projects that would add close to four thousand new homes to the region.

More than three thousand of the homes will be part of a development in Otay Mesa which was approved early in the day without opposition.  But two projects in the North County, just west of Escondido are vehemently opposed by residents of the rural area who say they feel betrayed.

"This very sight was supposed to be a buffer, and now you want to build on it?" said Jacqueline Arsivaud, Town Council Chair for the Elfin Forests and Harmony Grove Communities made up of some 400 rural homes.

Arsaud said 11 years ago, the community agreed to do its part for the growing housing needs of the County by supporting the dense housing development known as Harmony Grove Village.

"We felt okay, we did the right thing, and now we're safe," said Arsaud.

While existing residents believed the original deal was a 'one and done', developer David Kovach argued to Supervisors the master plan always called for expansion.

"Modestly expanding Harmony Grove Village with Harmony Grove Village South not only provides for desperately needed entry level to middle market new housing but is consistent with the policies, principals, and objectives of the general plan," Kovach said.

Many economic leaders are backing the expansion including the Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Erik Bruvold, CEO of the San Diego North Economic Development Council.

"The bottom line," said Bruvold, "is San Diego is going to continue to grow. We're going to continue to create jobs. And continue to create demand for housing."

Existing residents say aside from betraying their trust, developers are creating a potential death trap in the event of a wildfire, by overcrowding the area and making it more difficult for people to escape. A situation many say was already an issue in the 2015 Cocos Fire.

"Our only exit route was to the east through where these proposed developments, Valiano and Harmony Grove Village South, will be using," said resident Matthew Nicolas.

Representatives from Cal Fire and the San Diego County Sheriff's department said the evacuation routes would be manageable, and pointed out the new developments call for fire-resistant materials and defensible space; making the center of the developments their evacuation zone.

Arsivaud doesn't buy it.

"I mean really, we're just going to wait until somebody dies and then we're going to get serious about getting the data that shows match the density to the infrastructure," Arvisaud said.

Still, anticipating the project's likely approval, she vowed to keep fighting.

"We've had developers wanting to do University Heights, Cielo Del Norte, Cielo Del Sur, Sage Hills," said Arsivaud. "All of those came here. All of those were defeated. And this is exactly the same thing that's going to happen to these people."