The owner of several Ramona residential care facilities for brain injury victims said Wednesday he's happy the Board of Supervisors has approved an expansion at one of his properties. However, he said he doesn't know when the work might start because of the potential for a lawsuit.
"The neighbors have threatened that in the past," Kevin O'Connor, owner of Hidden Valley Ranch Rehabilitation Services, Inc. told Patch on Wednesday.
O'Connor operates four facilities in Ramona for people such as military or accident victims who have sustained brain injuries. Three of the units are former single family homes and the fourth is Stone Mountain, a 13,000-square-foot complex on 25 acres on Highland Valley Road. The planned addition of three residences and a gym to Stone Mountain has drawn ire from some neighbors. The proposal would bring the development to 36,000 square feet and increase the allowed number of clients from 15 to 52. The work is intended to be done in at least two phases over 10 years.
"That's over 4.5 times the lot coverage of surrounding properties," Supervisor Dianne Jacob told the Board at its March 28 meeting. Jacob represents Ramona. "That's the size of 2.5 Walgreen's stores," she said.
Neighbors are concerned about the behavior of some residents when they leave the property. Clients are not restricted from leaving the premises. Highland Valley Road residents have also raised land use density, sewer and traffic concerns.
Ramona Community Planning Group voted against the expansion but the County Planning Commission approved it. The planning group and two neighborhood groups appealed O'Connor's plans but were over-ruled by the Board of Supervisors last Wednesday.
"There was a process and we exhausted the process," Jim Piva, planning group chairman, told Patch outside the Board chambers. However, he said residents have other options.
Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve the expansion. Supervisor Dianne Jacob presented a motion to deny the proposal and was supported by Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. Ron Roberts, Bill Horn and Greg Cox voted for the proposed development.
"Everything I've heard is that this facility has been very successful," Cox said.
Jacob referred to a letter from a fomer Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU) staffer in 2010 listing several reasons why the proposed expansion should not be supported because it was "not a suitable site."
"What has changed?" Jacob asked.
DPLU staff at the recent Board meeting said the staffer did not represent the Department's formal opinion, which was to approve the project.
"This is a very emotional issue," Jacob said. "These folks (O'Connor's clients) deserve a place to live in the right place. Mr. O’Connor does a good job from what I can tell. However, we do have some findings that we have to look at legally. The project is located in a low density, rural area. Such an increase of use is out of community character, as neighbors have testified."
Highland Valley Road neighbors Jim and Sandee Salvatore who led the fight against the expansion were at the meeting. Sandee presented her opinions to the Board, as did fellow neighbor Ruth Barnett and an attorney for the neighbors.
After the vote, Sandee Salvatore told Patch, "Our neighborhood as a whole—34 property owners—could not be more disappointed listening to the three Supervisors that did not uphold the appeal. I think Supervisor Jacob brought some very valid legal and technical issues to the table which we might just have to explore."
Jim Salvatore added, "I agree with Supervisor Jacob. What has changed? This was a set up," he said. "The Board doesn’t do it’s homework, like Jacob did. Someone influential must live within the neighborhood."
Another neighbor, Tina Reeves, said, "I'm disappointed. We were there long before O’Connor. He doesn’t even live in Ramona."
"My grandchildren visit," she said, expressing concern for their safety and the density of the project. "I have 37 acres and I have just one house on it."
O'Connor told Patch Wednesday, "I'm very happy and I think Bill Horn made some sensible comments."
Horn said a variety of facilities in his district, such as Casa de Amparo—a remediation center for child abuse—faced initial opposition but after a while people got used to them.
O'Connor said the planned development at Stone Mountain won't begin any time soon.
"It could be at least a year and a half away," he told Patch. "I've been working on this for nearly nine years already."
He knows that a potential lawsuit by the neighbors could delay or stop the plans.
"They've mentioned they could do that," he said.
To see a tour of the four facilities owned by Hidden Valley Ranch Rehabilitation in Ramona, click here.
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