Crime and Diamond Valley Estates development are the hot topics during Sage Town Hall meeting

Fire Station 28 has a packed house with standing-room only at the Sage Town Hall Association Meeting Tuesday, Jan. 9. Diane Sieker photo

Despite the rain and slick driving conditions, the Sage Town Hall Association meeting at Fire Station 28 Tuesday, Jan. 9, was packed full as residents from the area came to listen to the speakers from the newly proposed Diamond Valley Estates development project. The suggested plan would make use of 412 acres located behind the Diamond Valley Golf Course.

The meeting, planned for the last three months, exploded with activity as a result of the recent findings by the association that a large new development was being planned for recently purchased acreage in the area. The original intent of the meeting was to have Sheriff Stan Sniff, Hemet Station Capt. Leonard Purvis and supervising code enforcement officer Marr A. Christian speak about crime, code violations and related subjects.

The meeting changed its initial purpose with the discovery of the proposed Diamond Valley Estates development. While the boundaries of Sage are not set in stone, this development is still too close for homeowners in the rural area of unincorporated Riverside County. Concerned people came to the assemblage to learn more.

As scheduled, Sniff spoke about crime, the struggles of financing deputies in the unincorporated sections of the county and budget issues. Next, he graciously gave up much of his allotted time so the developers’ representatives could have ample time to speak. Purvis and Christian gave up their scheduled time entirely to accommodate the last-minute change to the agenda.

Riverside County Supervisors’ legislative assistant Olivia Balderrama spoke very briefly in regards to how pleasant and orderly the meeting was progressing and commented in favor of the Diamond Valley Estates development.

Adam Rush, a certified planner from the CASC Engineering and Consulting firm and representing the owners of the parcel in question, took the stage and presented the proposed plan for the development. He had enlarged plot and topographical maps on display to illustrate his message. He stressed that the plans are very preliminary and that developments such as this one take many years to create. He added that input from the public is paramount to a successful endeavor. Rush described many of the studies and analyses required for the county to pass on each stage.

“We go back and forth, until the county is satisfied,” Rush said. He added that he looked forward to working with residents in regards to the venture.

The audience listened carefully, with only one or two short outbursts. The intent of the meeting was to have the information presented in the most calm and organized way possible. Sage meetings have been heated in the past regarding such subjects as crime, illegal cannabis cultivation and the lack of law enforcement presence.

Rush continued explaining the project goals, remarking on the many state and local laws that must be followed in a large project of this sort. Trails, open spaces, density and other factors were described. To be able to build this development, zoning included in the county’s General Plan would have to be changed.

The Riverside County General Plan dedicates most of the buildable area in the local region to be developed according to the Rural Residential Medium Density Housing plan. That plan dictates one home per 0.5 acre lot. That density provides a reasonable transition between the higher density housing found in the city of Hemet to the lower density housing found in the balance of rural Sage.

The proposed development seeks to develop 412 acres into residential buildings making up 381 lots and 138 condos, a community clubhouse, commercial spaces consisting of neighborhood, tourism with Oriental features and two museums. A resort hotel, private university and K-12 private schools are also in the plan.

Many residents were not satisfied with the presentation, considering the project to be a certain threat to the area in the form of higher crime, light pollution, increased traffic and other concerns.

“The developers presented a ‘pretty package’ but were very evasive about the true nature of the development as far as the retail, commercial and tourism aspect,” STHA board member Lyndi Dana said. “They kept talking about the large lot homes, but never once used the words condos or duplexes to describe the ‘higher density area.’ They also kept going back to the ‘open space’ they will have, but spoke maybe once about the hotel. They are very focused on the school and college and were evasive in my opinion when repeatedly asked ‘who the school was for.’ All they would answer is that it was a ‘private’ school and college. They never detailed the kinds of retail proposed, so we still don’t know if it’s high-end boutique, Jack in the Box or laundromats and dollar stores. I was encouraged to see that they seemed receptive to community input, but I’m not 100 percent confident in the motives or sincerity. I, for one, will not be letting my guard down, and I do not want any commercial projects or schools on the site.”

It has been suggested that Diamond Valley Estates would be marketed and exclusively used and owned by people from China, to the exclusion of local residents.

“The proposed style of the development is not an assumption being made on our part due to the ethnicity of the property owners,” Dana said. “They were very clear in the paperwork we received and shared with everyone that the museums and tourism center would represent Asian culture in keeping with the overall ‘Oriental theme of the project.’ We would like a more varied cultural representation.

“We are all angry and scared regarding this kind of major development,” Dana said. “I believe the community would like to see a design theme that is more inclusive and representative of the Native American, Mexican-American and many other cultures that played an important part in the history of Sage. I believe they would like to see a project that honors the rural, equestrian feel of the area and that is in keeping with the general plan.”

Rush went on to answer questions presented to him on index cards. Many had repetitive queries, but he repeatedly addressed as many of the issues as he could.

As he was going through the last of the index card questions, Sage resident Matthew Drake marched up to the front of the room, introduced himself, invoked the First Amendment and spoke passionately about his reasons for being against any development in the area.

“I’m just more concerned about the negative impact they will have overall,” Drake said. “But one does have to question what they will bring to the table to help and benefit the community. Mark my words, these types of outlying cookie cutter communities will be the demise of our unique, quiet country life as we know it.

“We need to be very smart about this, stay calm and collected, educate and communicate among the community and surrounding like-minded areas, do our homework and brainstorm,” Drake said, advocating zero growth to maintain the rural flavor of the Sage area.

He spoke for several minutes and ended to a round of applause from the audience.

The meeting was adjourned, but all the speakers stayed late to talk to concerned residents one-on-one about the project and what the next steps would be.

“I stayed after the meeting in a continued dialogue with the developer’s team including their architects,” STHA board president Bill Donahue said. “They seemed authentically interested in understanding our concerns and trying to find a compromise that will better fit into our community. I have doubts whether such a compromise is possible, but I am extremely happy that Sage now has a way to have our collective voice heard. By voicing our concerns in an orderly fashion, we have made it possible to keep our seat at the table while discussions of this and other development projects are being considered. Most of the residents I have spoken with are not opposed to all development, but the development needs to make sense. That position was understandable to both the developers and the county representatives.

“We will continue to keep the residents of Sage informed,” Donahue said. “But we need your support. Please join the Sage Town Hall Association. We are a nonprofit corporation, so donations to STHA are generally tax-deductible.”

For more information about joining the Sage Town Hall Association and having a voice in regards to this project, visit http://sagetownhallassociation.weebly.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sagetownhall. More meetings will be scheduled and announced via these sources.

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