Major redesign of Butterfly Village and County commitment to policy changes bring end to conflict
by Julie Engell
Parties to the long-simmering legal and political conflict over Rancho San Juan, the largest development proposal in Monterey County history, settled their differences on April 8.
The Rancho San Juan Opposition Coalition and LandWatch Monterey County agreed to drop their CEQA suit against the project and promised not to challenge the project again. Their agreement was based upon a vastly improved project and a commitment by county supervisors to adopt protective policies in the new general plan.
As first approved in 2004, Rancho San Juan was a 2500-acre, 4000-home city wedged between Salinas and Prunedale and located along the often-gridlocked Hwy. 101 and in the severely water-short Salinas Basin. Opponents filed a CEQA lawsuit against the project and also defeated it in a public vote in November 2005. However, one day before the election, Supervisors side-stepped the issue by approving Butterfly Village in the larger project's stead.
Butterfly Village, at 671 acres, comprised the golf-course/luxury home component of Rancho San Juan. Conditions of Butterfly Village's approval and General Plan policies made it clear that Butterfly Village was merely phase one of the larger Rancho San Juan. Those conditions and policies also made it clear that Monterey County Supervisors intended to piecemeal Rancho San Juan into existence.
Undaunted by the piecemeal tactic of the Supervisors, project opponants began gathering signatures to submit Butterfly Village to a public vote. Additionally, a lawsuit was filed against Butterfly Village. Then, even though more than enough signatures had been gathered to require a vote, the County Supervisors removed the measure from the ballot because the referendum petition had not been translated into Spanish. It took another year and a half of legal wrangling before voters were allowed to reject Butterfly Village by a 65% majority.
Finally, in late fall, 2007 Supervisors committed to a set of General Plan policies that offer protection for the area's water resources, roads and farmland. These policies also allayed public concerns that the originally-proposed project would be built bit by bit.
These policies include:
• Limiting subdivision to the first single-family home on a legal lot of record in the Greater Salinas Area Plan Area north of Williams Road;
• Limiting subdivision to the first single-family home on a legal lot of record in the inland North County Area Plan Area;
• Allowing subdivision of prime farmland and farmland of statewide importance only when the subdivision is for exclusive agricultural purposes.
In addition, the new Butterfly Village is a vastly improved project including:
• Eliminating the golf course and replacing it with a regional park and open space. This greatly reduces project water use, assures storm water retention on site, and reduces visitor traffic. The park and open space is expanded to 342 acresÑmore than half the project's total 671 acres;
• Eliminating the golf club house and time share units; replacing them with senior residences and a community health and wellness center;
• Increasing the affordable housing level from 15% to 32%;
• Providing a 10-acre school site;
• Doubling the amount of commercial space to include a complete, neighborhood grocery store resulting in expanded job opportunities and reduced traffic in and out of the project.
The revised Butterfly Village project also retains important features such as:
• An on-site waste water treatment plant,
• A sheriff's substation,
• A county library,
• A fire station,
• Green building incentives.
Public hearings on the revised Butterfly Village are anticipated sometime in early June.
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