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This post has been updated.
With the failure of Measure B, the developers behind Lilac Hills Ranch finally encountered a “no” that they may not be able to get around.
The measure that sought to approve the 1,700-home Lilac Hills Ranch master-planned development near Valley Center, failed Tuesday, garnering only about 35 percent of the vote.
Though the developer, Accretive Investments, opted to take a gamble with voters instead of going through the normal county permitting process, it technically never pulled its application with the county. But after failing with county voters, it would be difficult to get the exact same project approved by the Board of Supervisors.
“If voters vote it down, it will be really hard for the County Board of Supervisors to come back and say, ‘We’re going to approve it anyway,’” said Brian Adams, a political science professor at San Diego State University. “Politically I think it will be really, really tough to do that. I think the developers knew that this was their Hail Mary path.”
Lilac Hills Ranch has been trying to work through the traditional county permitting process for nearly a decade. The development required special permission because it would add more than 1,700 homes in a rural area that currently only allows for 110. It’s been vehemently opposed by a group of residents, and back in 2009, the county outright denied the project’s application.
A new director re-organized the planning department, giving the project another chance. It narrowly gained a Planning Commission OK, dependent on certain changes to the project being made.
Then, Lilac Hills Ranch hit two roadblocks. The first was that a state watchdog told Supervisor Bill Horn, who was expected to vote in favor of the project, to recuse himself from the vote. Horn owns nearby property whose value would increase if the project were approved.
And a California Supreme Court decision regarding another large, sprawling development in the Los Angeles area changed how developers should measure and disclose their projects’ potential greenhouse gas emissions.
So Accretive decided to roll the dice with county voters instead of leaving the decision to the board. In doing so, they were able to sidestep many of the conditions the county had placed on the project.
The county, for example, wanted the developers to fund a new school to accommodate new residents, improve roads to bring them up to safety standards and fund a new fire station.
The ballot measure didn’t obligate Accretive to do any of those things, though it has a separately agreement with the Bonsall School District to build a school and told county supervisors it would provide some additional money to the county to help fund road improvements. The county has said it’s unclear whether those agreements are legally binding or enough to address the issues.
Where the project goes from here is not clear.
“If this project fails countywide during a presidential election, you can’t come back with the same project,” said Bill Fulton, director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University and a former planning director for the city of San Diego.
Fulton said the developer will have to figure out how to change the project in such a way that they can still meet their financial goals while doing something politically feasible.
After a project seeking to build hundreds of homes on the Escondido Country Club property failed at the ballot in 2014, the land and development rights eventually were turned over to another developer, charged with finding a more palatable vision.
Selling the property Accretive assembled for Lilac Hills Ranch would also be an option in this case, Fulton said.
Both Adams and Fulton weren’t surprised that Measure B failed. Going to the voters is always a risky proposition.
“I think that most people going into it thought the chances of it passing were pretty slim,” said Adams. “That’s the status quo.”