More review needed for Santa Margarita Ranch



The owners of the vast Santa Margarita Ranch have made changes to their proposed agricultural-residential cluster development in an effort to get the county's approval.

A hefty 1,000-page draft environmental impact report identified 11 "Class I" impacts from the proposed gated community of 112 homes, two wineries, and other agricultural uses on 3,778 acres near the town of Santa Margarita. Class I is the most severe rating, and the number is "a record in the county by far," according to county planner James Caruso.

Around a thousand pages of comments and responses have been submitted on the draft environmental impact report, Caruso said, including some comments from the developers themselves.

Ranch owners Rob Rossi, Karl Wittstrom, and Doug Filipponi have submitted "substantial new information" on water resources, traffic, cultural resources, and biological resources, as well as a redesigned ag-residential cluster project. Twenty-one lots have been relocated to avoid or reduce impacts to visual resources, archaeological sites, oaks, and agricultural soils.

The availability of groundwater for future residential and agricultural uses on the Santa Margarita Ranch is another issue, along with the possibility of using water from the Nacimiento pipeline project.

"There's a question whether they can use Nacimiento water for a rural subdivision. The county has policies that surface water is supposed to be for urban development, not ag-type uses like an ag cluster," Caruso noted, adding that the county supervisors have the "ultimate authority" on the decision.

A new version of the draft environmental report will be circulated for public review and comments in October.


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