From the January 30, 2015 Hi-Desert Star:

Company pushes plan for gated housing near Friendly Hills

Posted: Friday, January 30, 2015 8:11 pm | Updated: 1:18 pm, Wed Feb 4, 2015.

By Jimmy Biggerstaff
Hi-Desert Star

JOSHUA TREE — The Morongo Basin Municipal Advisory Council’s committee on the Alta Mira project got an update Friday on the proposed 248-unit gated community near Friendly Hills Elementary School.

The committee tabled any action on a resolution calling for an environmental impact report on the development. It would be Joshua Tree’s first gated community.

Project proponent John Criste told committee chairman Mark Lindquist and committee members David Fick, Pat Flanagan, Vic Fuller, Janet Johnston and Mike Lipsitz he has talked with Morongo Unified School District administrators about increased traffic at the staggered junction of Alta Loma Drive and Sunny Vista Road. Criste said plans include a 200-foot dedicated right-turn lane for families dropping off students in front of the school.

According to the meeting agenda, the developers have also held discussions with Joshua Basin Water District staff and Center for Biological Diversity representatives about the environmental impacts of the relatively high-density housing project.

“We’ve had some very productive conversations with the Center For Biological Diversity,” Ron Schwartz, a partner in the project, said.

According to a 2009 estimate, the 248 single-family homes would use about 89 acre feet of water per year. Responding to criticisms about water use, Criste told the committee the original plans allowing for up to 200 square feet of grass lawns per home site had been scrapped.

Potential home buyers, Criste, said, would include “empty nester” retirement couples. Schwartz said homes would sell in the $225,000 to $300,000 range.

Fick took issue with the traffic survey. Criste said updated traffic counts were conducted about one year ago.

“They do not know the shopping needs of the Morongo Basin,” Fick alleged. Criste replied that Caltrans had reviewed the results of the study. “Yucca Valley would welcome this project with open arms,” Fick declared, adding, “Joshua Tree would not.”

“We all spent a lot of time on the community plan,” Janet Johnston said. “The county has given it no weight, no credence, no nothing. I think we’ve both been screwed over by the county on that point.”

During public comments, former MAC member Mickey Luckman asked what the project developer’s commitment was to finish the plan. Schwartz said the financial investment was considerable and restated his commitment to the plan.

Jay Babcock, of the activist group “Defend Joshua Tree,” warned the developers about the community’s propensity toward lawsuits, citing the ongoing litigation with Dynamic Development and the county over a proposed Dollar General store in Joshua Tree.

Rebecca Unger, a Joshua Basin Water District director, said she admired the developer’s tenacity, and reminded the developers construction takes a lot of water. The project would require construction of a package wastewater treatment plant similar to the one at Hi-Desert Medical Center. Stormwater retention and detention ponds are planned at the upper and lower ends of the project.

The county’s housing density zoning for the proposed development was “up-zoned” in the early 1980s for up to 4.2 units per acre, an action Fick characterized as a “backroom deal.”

From KCDZ 107.7:

By Z107.7 News, on February 2nd, 2015
Back in November, the developers of the 248-unit Alta Mira residential project in Joshua Tree met with a small group of local residents to discuss the project, and encountered resistance and skepticism. This past Friday, the discussion was continued, with a larger group of residents on hand. Reporter Dan Stork says that locals generally scoffed at the developers’ efforts…
John Criste, the planning consultant for the Alta Mira residential project planned for the Friendly Hills area of Joshua Tree, told the ad hoc committee on the project, and about 15 other residents assembled at the County government building in Joshua Tree about recent discussions he’s had with the school district, the water district, the Center for Biological Diversity, and of efforts to manage traffic patterns. He offered the school district a slice of land on Sunny Vista Road, to create a safe entry lane to Friendly Hills Elementary school for parents dropping off students. Criste discussed with the water district hydrology and water infrastructure considerations for the project, and said that a package plant technology similar to that being used at the High Desert Medical Center would be used for waste water treatment. He also said that ongoing discussions with the Center for Biological Diversity about habitat considerations on the project site will soon yield an agreement, but he was not at liberty to provide specifics at this time.
The ad hoc committee members—Mark Lundquist, Mike Lipsitz, David Fick, Pat Flanagan, and Vic Fuller—questioned Criste closely on the methodology of traffic studies he cited, and were skeptical about their adequacy. The committee also questioned Criste about mitigation fees, water infrastructure, the long-term financial viability of Homeowner Association emergency reserves, invasive species patrolling, and landscape planning.
During public comment, most speakers attacked the project on numerous grounds—light pollution, dislike of gated communities, inappropriate zoning, the assumed buyer profile for properties, development density, strain on water resources, and impact on native plants. Claims by Ron Schwartz, who represented investors in the project, about economic benefit for Joshua Tree, were derided. Only one local resident attendee—Julian Gonzalez—disputed other locals’ criticisms of the project.
The ad hoc committee deferred to another meeting whether to recommend a call for a full Environment Impact Report to the Morongo Basin MAC.


About Jay Babcock

I am the co-founder and editor of Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curator of the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was one of five Angelenos listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. Today, I live a peaceful life in the rural wilderness of Joshua Tree, California, where I am a partner in JTHomesteader.com with Stephanie Smith.
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