After decades of work on a plan to preserve 290,000 acres of habitat in North County, environmentalists now wonder if that plan is being used to the benefit of a controversial project near San Marcos.
Newland Communities is looking to build 2,100 homes just west of Interstate 15, on land that is home to gnatcatchers, a bird whose endangered status helped spawn decades of land-use planning across the county.
Ry Rivard writes that Newland Sierra is now included on a list of already approved projects in the Multi-Species Conservation Plan for North County, even though the project has yet to earn the approval of the County Board of Supervisors. That gives the project predictability and cost savings, among other benefits.
Dan Silver, the head of the Endangered Habitats League who serves on the steering committee for the conservation plan, says including Newland Sierra in a list of approved projects gives the impression that it’s already approved, and puts pressure on agencies tasked with protecting wildlife to hold their objections.
“There would be political pressure on them to put away their red pencil,” he said.
Newland says more than half of its land will remain undeveloped, and recently bought land in Ramona to preserve. They say their project amounts to 700 acres in a 290,000-acre conservation plan, and critics – including the neighboring Golden Door spa, which sells the experience of a tranquil escape – just want to stop the project, and not necessarily protect the environment.