A long-planned and controversial 389-home development near Jamul--approved once before only to be overturned by the courts--again won the endorsement Wednesday of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
But neither side in the five-year-long dispute over the proposed Honey Springs Ranch project seemed willing to believe that the case had at last been closed.
An attorney for the Sierra Club, which successfully fought the board's May, 1982, decision approving Honey Springs, vowed to return to the courts with another challenge "as quickly as we can get the papers together."
And with that in mind, Jeff Quinn, president of Presenting Inc., the developer, expressed only cautious pleasure at the board's decision.
"We're happy," Quinn said. "But it's definitely one day at a time. As of this day, we go forward. We intend to develop."
The board's decision, which came on a 3-2 vote with Supervisors George Bailey and Leon Williams dissenting, gave the project tentative approval and ordered the county's attorneys to draw up the final wording of documents that will justify the action.
The decision came after a more than two-hour-long public hearing that hinged on the question of whether Honey Springs represents "leapfrog" development or is a natural step in the urbanization of what once was--and many argue still is--a rural area of East County.
Honey Springs, if it is ever built, will include 389 homes on 553 acres, 15 miles of roads, a fire station, equestrian facilities, a sewage plant and a public water system. The development's commercial area will feature a convenience store, restaurant, cocktail lounge, health spa, dry cleaner, tennis courts, a service station and a boat rental office.
All of this will be placed six miles southeast of the town of Jamul where today there are only 149 homes within a four-mile radius, said Stephen Volker, the Sierra Club attorney who represents a homeowners group fighting the project.
To approve the project, which involved removing the land from a state agricultural preserve, the board had to find that Honey Springs would not be an island of urban development in an otherwise rural area.
In support of that argument, Presenting used a series of maps and graphics to show that development is naturally moving its way along a "land bridge" from Jamul to Honey Springs. Within the next decade, Attorney Paul Robinson argued, much of the rural land now separating the project from Jamul will be developed.
That argument, accepted by the board majority, was scoffed at by Gerald Petrone, president of the Honey Springs Homeowners Assn. and a longtime opponent of the project.
"It's a ridiculous notion," Petrone, who did not attend Wednesday's hearing, said when reached by The Times. "Once you leave downtown Jamul, which is the closest urban development, you drive through miles of nothingness before you get to Honey Springs. The notion that within the next nine years there is going to be a continuum of development from Jamul to Honey Springs is just incredible poppycock."
But Supervisor Brian Bilbray, who voted for the project, said Petrone and others who opposed Honey Springs had not studied closely enough the recent pattern of development in San Diego County.
"Anyone who doesn't think that area is going to be substantially developed in the next 10 years, or even the next five years, is not looking at the facts of history," Bilbray said. "It's a lot of wishful thinking."
The project approved by the board Wednesday, with its clustered housing and almost 1,500 acres of open space, differed dramatically from the first Honey Springs proposal, which in its time was considered a major test of the county's commitment to growth management.
When the project first came before the supervisors in December, 1980, plans called for the construction of 862 luxury homes that the developer claimed would be built using the most advanced conservation techniques available--solar energy, water recycling and earth-insulated homes. The board rejected that plan unanimously.
Presenting then reduced the size of the project and tried again 14 months later, first winning approval to remove the land from the agricultural preserve and then getting the nod to build 389 luxury homes, leaving 70% of the ranch's 2,022 acres as open space.
In order to cancel the agricultural preserve agreement, known as a state Williamson Act contract, the supervisors ruled in February, 1982, that Honey Springs would be a rural, not urban, development. Three months later, the board approved the development itself.
But that decision was challenged in court by the Sierra Club, and in June, 1984, a state appellate court ruled against Presenting and the county. As designed, Honey Springs would be an urban development, the court found, and the case was returned to supervisors to determine if that urban development would be "contiguous" with other urban development around it.
It was that question that supervisors decided Wednesday.