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Decade-old Santa Margarita Ranch controversy continues 

After hearing hours of testimony both for and against the controversial Santa Margarita Ranch development Monday night, the Planning Commission didn’t make any decisions. But they did develop a strategy they hope will streamline future discussions.

The nearly packed supervisors’ chamber first saw a presentation by the applicant, Santa Margarita LLC, which is comprised of Doug Filipponi, Karl Wittstrom, and local developer and long-time resident Rob Rossi. They are proposing to develop a 3,778-acre portion of the nearly 14,000-acre ranch with 111 widely scattered homes southeast of Santa Margarita. Long-term plans include the development of 400 more homes and a golf course, among other features.

Alternatively, county staff planners proposed a reduced 39-home development, confined to a smaller cluster of acreage. The county’s alternative would reduce the number of Class 1 environmental impacts—those deemed most damaging—from 10 to seven.

Commissioners heard testimony from more than 40 residents and experts. Some expressed concern about a possible lack of adequate water supply, agricultural and environmental impacts, and preservation of the culturally historical area.

One comment labeled the project as “the most destructive development in the county,” while other speakers praised the developers for their responsible planning. The county’s alternative proposal found little support by the public.

“We did a great job presenting our project as the best alternative for the community,” said Filipponi. “We are pleased with the support we received from residents of Santa Margarita.”

In an effort to increase efficiency, commissioners set forth a strategy of isolating issues by Class 1 impacts and tackling them independently at future meetings. The next meeting will be July 24.

“We are pleased the commission is taking its time,” said John Beccia, president of Santa Margarita Area Residents Together (SMART).

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