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Cumming Ranch Foes Have Angry Words for Planning Group

The Ramona advisory group lends support to the draft EIR of the 125-home project, over the outcries of some local residents. Public review ends Dec. 20.

The proposed Cumming Ranch project received general support from the Ramona Community Planning Group last week, but some local residents remain critical of what they see as the beginning of fundamental change to the southern entrance to town.

"It's not a very big group of opponents for a project this size," property owner Gene Driscoll said the day after the planning group discussed the draft environmental impact report (EIR) for his project.

Yet, it's a vociferous group. An enraged group.

They're enraged because they see Cumming Ranch, proposed for the grasslands and vernal pools area at the southern entrance to town, as "completely out of community character."

They're enraged because they feel that their Planning Group isn't listening to them.

They're enraged because they see this project, envisioned for the current sprawling hunting ground of hawks, and possibly a golden eagle, as just the beginning.

The beginning of the end for Ramona's country ways, they say.

Cumming Ranch would span both sides of Highland Valley Road, just west of the intersection with Highway 67 and Dye Road. It's named after the family that raised cattle there once, and a cattle gate can still be seen in a corner of the property. Driscoll's partnership, 805 Properties, bought the ranch from the Tulloch family in 1993. Betty Tulloch is from the Cumming family.

"Those seated tonight and those who will be seated in January bear the responsibility for the legacy of this," Vivian Osborn emphasized from the public podium at the Dec. 2 meeting, her voice shaking.

"Extension of sewer services is growth inducing. No one will forget who, where and when this decision was made."

Osborn was joined by other residents of Voorhes Lane. The unpaved road is adjacent to the west of the planned development. Altogether, about 20 area opponents turned out in their coats and scarves on a frosty night to declare, once again, their passionate protest. Among them was Dave Bittner from the Wildlife Research Institute.

Several people mentioned that the intersection has never been well designed and that, if this project goes through, it will need to be fixed.

"The citizens did not take on Caltrans for giving us a dysfunctional intersection," said Joe Minervini, who expressed concern that the project will create too much traffic. "Let's get it right this time."

The Planning Group's response was generally in favor of the project, as it has been over about nine years of review. Members voted to send their comments to the County Department of Planning and Land Use, supporting the draft EIR, but noting the inadequacy of the intersection at Highway 67.

The group has only an advisory capacity, as one member mentioned. On hearing that spoken, Osborn shouted from the audience, "Thank God!" 

Planning Group member Dennis Sprong said, "There will be growth that the county is going to impose on us. We can choose to blow off projects like [this] or be forced to work with someone who doesn't want to work with us. Mr. Driscoll has always been very forthcoming. Pick your poison. Choose this or someone who will put in townhomes."

Several opponents, among them Rick Crook, expressed that some of the lot sizes are too small and that the transition from neighboring properties to Cumming Ranch lots needs further attention.

The hot button issue of "clustering" was raised several times. Clustering is when housing lots are grouped together in specific areas so that other areas in a project can be left for open space. In general, the practice raises concerns about changing the character of housing in rural communities and the possibility of fire risk in the open areas.

"I'm sorry that I can't make everyone happy on this project," Driscoll said. "I'm not the one changing things. It's really the General Plan that is changing things."

The plans for Cumming Ranch include placing the vernal pools in an endowment for perpetuity and installing community level nonmotorized trails, which can be used by equestrians. The developer plans to mitigate on the property for the mature oak trees. Roads will all be public, and there'll be no street lighting to satisfy concerns about light pollution in Ramona's famously starlit sky.

Planning Group Chairwoman Chris Anderson, a Realtor who voted in support of the draft EIR, talked about how much Ramona is receiving back for the impact on the town.

"We are getting a whole lot for the project. The giving of 400-odd acres for open space says a lot."

Of the 685 acres of the ranch property, more than 400 will be preserved as part of the Ramona Grasslands Project. The remaining land will include 125 lots with open space around them.

The Planning Group generally agreed that Driscoll has worked hard with residents and the county to address issues raised and to develop solutions. But the solutions aren't enough for some residents.

Anderson had to repeatedly quell outbursts among opponents, such as when Minervini yelled, "What about the residents?" This came after group member Jim Piva's discussion of balance: "If we come down with hard and fast rules and if we are too rigid, the county will ignore us and do their own thing. We all have to be on the same team. There has to be compromise."

Another Planning Group member, Dennis Grimes, a winery owner, who voted not to support the document, gave this caveat: "I feel for the developer. I really resent the way the county is forcing this clustering on us. I'd like to see agriculture remain here in Ramona, in open space, rather than having open space just be a fire hazard and maintenance cost."

The public review period for the draft EIR ends Dec. 20.

The Highway 67 subcommittee of the Planning Group will meet with Driscoll's engineer to come up with "an ideal design for the intersection," and then present that to the planning group. The group can then go to Caltrans, secretary Kristi Mansolf stated.

tom stephan January 05, 2011 at 01:53 AM
In the article there words that say in effect that it is a "possivle" hunting grounds for an eagle (singular). I know the eagles there at the Cummings ranchas personally as anyone alive. This is the fioraging habitat for a resident pair of Golden Eagles (I have pictures ),m their young. Transient Golden eagles called "floaters" and all the other rarer raptor migrants. Since Christmas, I have seen on the hills on the Cumming Ranch or on the power poles along the road on the Cumming Ranch, Resident Red Tailed hawks that nest on the ranch, both Golden Eagles, one juvenile male Bald Eagle, one wild immature female Prairie Falcon(yesterday Monday 1/3/2011), One adult female Merlin (Columbarius), one adult female Northern Harrier. This ranch is critical raptor foraging habitat. I think our planning group should re-consider this project. Imagine Ramona in the year 2030. It will be the only city with Golden eagles in the middle of town. This will not happen if the Grasslands are fragmented. Golden eagles neeed expases of open land with marginal edges (Cumming Ranch) that provide diversity to the prey base. I know the owner is a reasonable man and it is not my wish to alienate him. Far from it. I am extending a heartfelt invitation for him and I to begin a dialog for the conservation of this habitat. Thank you, Tom Stephan

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