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Final OK likely for E.C.

May 02, 2002



Staff Writer

The El Centro City Council took two of three steps Wednesday toward final approval of a 465-housing project south of Interstate 8.

The council, by a 4-1 vote, certified the project's final environmental impact report with its mitigation and monitoring plans and the project's zoning map change from agriculture to single-family residential.

Voting in favor were council members Ray Castillo, Larry Grogan, Jack Terrazas and Cheryl Walker. Councilman Jack Dunnam voted "no" on both issues.


"I have some real issues as far as the city's abilities to provide police and fire services to cover these areas," Dunnam said. "I just think we're stretched too far."

A group of residents who live in the area — south of Interstate 8, along Clark and Horne roads — appealed the recommendation by the city Planning Commission that the project be approved. The group, Keep Clark Road Country, was led by Lorraine Johnson.

"We believe the EIR is inadequate and the project is inconsistent with the city's general plan," she said. Johnson criticized the EIR's traffic study and the project's potential effects on McCabe Union Elementary School. She said local residents would like an expansion of equestrian trails, that the 120-acre project's main access be from Imperial Avenue, that the project not be approved until Imperial Avenue is extended into the area and that the city adopt a specific plan for the south side of the city. "We don't oppose development."

Other residents asked what the cost would be to move the city's weapons range, that a buffer of land would allow residents to retain a feeling of being in a rural area and that they'd like to keep their country home country.

In response to Dunnam's concerns about fire and police protection, Police Chief Ray Loera said he would need more officers.

"There is no question that it is going to stretch us," he said. "We are expanding and we will need more manpower."

Loera said he wasn't sure how many additional officers it would take, but estimated at least one shift, or six officers, but only if the department were at full staffing, which it is not.

Fire Chief Charles Beard said much the same. He said whether the city supplies adequate fire protection depends on time and distance, and that the standard response time is five minutes. He said by the time the project is fully developed, the city would need a fire station on the south side of the freeway, and perhaps sooner if other projects in the area expand sooner.

Mayor Larry Grogan said what drives the need for additional police and fire coverage is the location of new development, and that cities do not build new stations on the assumption that growth will occur but when it does occur. He said for the city to attract commercial investment it must show it is progressive and has available housing.

In the end, the only remaining issue is to settle certain issues related to the project's tentative subdivision map.

The developer, San Diego resident Brent Grizzle, said he was pleased with the council's actions.

"I think the council's action tonight shows the issues with the EIR were adequately addressed," he said after the votes. "We're building a quality project in the right area, and the city has a definite need for more housing."

The council's action is not the end of the line for Keep Clark Road Country's Johnson, however.

"We're very disappointed," she said. "We will challenge it again when it goes before (the Local Agency Formation Commission for annexation)."

>>Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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