Wildomar City Council approves Camelia Townhomes in spite of community concerns

Mayor Timothy Walker had to shush several audience members before the evening was over, but the Wildomar City Council gave the final go-ahead for the Camelia Townhomes project the night of Tuesday, Aug. 8.

The project, located at the southern end of Wildomar where Palomar Street becomes Washington Avenue, will result in 163 new condominium units, the first townhomes in the city of Wildomar.

The developer will also rearrange the road setup in the area, connecting Jefferson Avenue through the Murrieta border to Palomar Street and terminating Washington Avenue at Jefferson Avenue and Palomar Street. In accordance with Wildomar’s general plan, Washington Avenue will one day run through the Jefferson Avenue-Palomar Street intersection and connect to a bridge over Interstate 15.

Aric Evett of Urban Crossroads, paid by the developer to conduct a traffic study, said the project would not significantly impact traffic in the area, though traffic is predicted to increase significantly over the next 20 years regardless of whether the townhomes are built.

Larry Markham, who represented the developer Sunrise Camelia at the city council meeting, said the developer was making a number of changes to address privacy complaints from area residents. The project now includes trees and a 10-foot wall to serve as visual barriers, and some of the townhomes will even feature frosted glass on windows facing existing properties.

But even with the concessions from the developer, there was plenty of contention to go around, prompting some scolding from councilmembers.

“I’m absolutely disgusted with the people who come into this room and decide to boo and yell back at the councilmembers here, as we try to deliberate the problem that’s in front of us,” Mayor Pro Tem Ben Benoit told local residents who had come to speak out against the Camelia project.

Some worried the medium-density townhome development would chip away at Wildomar’s rural character.

“The community is justifiably proud of its rural nature and its commitment that this must be preserved,” Wildomar resident and frequent council meeting attendee Kenneth Mayes told council members.

Mayes took councilmembers to task for allowing the project to come to a vote, bringing up some of their past statements.

“We could have lived anywhere. We liked the rural atmosphere. We liked seeing the parachutes from the nearby airport and the horses that walk down the streets,” Mayes attributed to Councilwoman Bridgette Moore.

Some, mostly residents of the Grizzly Ridge subdivision in Murrieta immediately adjacent to the project, took issue with new neighbors who might be looking into their backyards.

“I don’t want my granddaughter or her friends back there swimming around with people looking down and things going on back there. I just don’t ever want it to happen,” Murrieta resident Ev Huizenga said. “We will have zero privacy at all because all of the carports are gonna be facing our backyard.”

Huizenga worried that residents of the townhome project may even break into her property.

“There’s going to be riffraff working on their cars, working on their engines, drinking their beer,” she said. “They’re going to look over and go, hey, they’ve got a pool, they’ve got a keg of beer out there, they’ve got barbecue out there, let’s just come over there, let’s jump the fence.”

There were a handful of residents at the meeting in favor of the project or at least not entirely opposed.

“I had some really fun schtick planned for this meeting, but my friend died last night, and I find myself less interested in the contrived first-world problems that have been used as rallying cries against this development,” Morabito said.

Morabito said he was sure the city council had Wildomar’s best interests at heart in moving forward with the project.

“I know somebody’s worried that the townhomes equal hordes of evildoers coming down to – I don’t know what – break into your homes?” resident Sheila Urlaub said. “I know we’re concerned about rural. I’m hearing the rural thing from Wildomar residents, which is ironic because many of those complaining about the rural live in tract houses.”

Murrieta councilman Alan Long, speaking as a public commenter, said it seems the developer has done all it can to mitigate residents’ concerns.

“I appreciate the applicant for making many, many changes,” Long said. “And from what I understand, there are more changes even to this day being made to accommodate concerns.”

Most residents present at the meeting though were against the townhomes.

Wildomar resident Linda Magee questioned the wisdom of adding even more homes to the already-clogged Interstate 15 corridor and wondered why council members were leaning toward approving a project that so many residents do not want.

“It sounds to me like this is a done deal, and you have all decided already that it is OK to put this high-density housing in our town, in our city, that we designated (rural residential), that you can just go ahead and do that because you can,” Magee said.

The problem, though, is not quite that simple, councilmembers told the audience.

First of all, while the council has had to change the city’s zoning map from rural residential to medium-high density residential to allow for the project, the city’s general plan – a separate map that illustrates the city’s future plans – has long displayed the project area as the appropriate density. And it has been a part of the area’s general plan since the late 1980s, council members said. Wildomar adopted the Riverside County general plan as its own when it incorporated in 2008.

Mayor Pro Tem Ben Benoit said the decision isn’t really up to the city anyway.

“The numbers that are up there, the state looks at that map on a regular basis,” Benoit said. “California passes laws that say you don’t have enough high density, we’re going to make you pick out places to put more high density.”

Councilwoman Marsha Swanson said she took issue with residents’ assertions that the council was not dedicated to preserving Wildomar’s rural character.

“I don’t think there’s one person on this council who doesn’t want to live in a rural area,” she said. “And buildout on that general plan is 52,000 people. It doesn’t matter how many units go in here or there, 52,000 is the buildout with the zoning, the way it is supposed to be. So that’s still pretty rural.”

Swanson also pointed out that being able to see into neighbors’ yards is an issue in both rural and urban areas.

“I moved here 43 years ago, and we built our house on a hill. That’s a nice place to build on six acres,” she said. “There was nobody around us, but I looked right into the backyard of the closest home.”

“I don’t know what everybody’s doing in their backyards,” Councilman Dustin Nigg said on the subject. “And I really do think that the middle ground has been met. Actually, I think we’re past the middle ground now, I think we’re at like at the 70-yard line, with the developer making the concessions.”

In the end, despite residents’ protests, the vote was 5-0 in favor of approving the development.

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