Eagles may derail senior housing

Wildlife News
From: Big Bear Grizzly - CA, USA


Bald eagles haven’t arrived in Big Bear Valley yet for their winter visit, but they were ruffling a lot of feathers at the Big Bear Lake City Council meeting Nov. 10.

Developer Brian Weber was at the City Council meeting hoping to get a nod of approval for a zone change and general plan amendment that would allow him to build a senior housing complex on Big Bear Boulevard. The project site is adjacent to the Big Bear Senior Center between Stanfield Cutoff and Division Drive.

When Weber and partner Steve Rafferty developed the Castle Glen area, the agreement included providing and developing land for senior use. The site for the Senior Center is part of that agreement. Original plans included a shopping mall dedicated to senior citizen needs on the parcel west of the center.

Over the years, the idea morphed into senior housing. The units aren’t affordable housing, but under an agreement with the city if approved, would include an age restriction. The units would be sold and occupied only by residents 55 years and older.

But Weber and Rafferty need to satisfy those opposed to the project that the bald eagle habitat won’t be harmed by more development. Despite studies presented to the council Nov. 10 as part of the package, not everyone is convinced the eagle is safe.

Ed Wallace, representing the Sierra Club Big Bear Group and the Audubon Society, said the developers should be required to complete a new Environmental Impact Report. Wallace said due to water shortages, fire danger and other environmental concerns, a new EIR is necessary. “It’s the wrong location and certainly not affordable,” Wallace said.

Wallace, Bill LoPresti and David Foltz said the project is proposed adjacent to bald eagle habitat. LoPresti cited recent bald eagle counts showing the numbers of eagles wintering in Big Bear are continuing to decline. LoPresti said he was told by the Forest Service one contributing factor could be increased development.

City Planner Janice Etter told the council that when Castle Glen was approved, several hundred acres were set aside as open space for bald eagle habitat. The open space and habitat area is south of the Senior Center and proposed development site, between those parcels and the Castle Glen development. Also, Baker Pond on the north side across the highway is considered open space as part of the agreement, Etter said.

Additional studies were done in regard to the eagle population and possible impacts, Etter said. The study determined that the proposed project would not impact the eagle population, she said.

Adam Keats, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Grizzly, that the bald eagle is on California’s Endangered Species List and is a fully protected species under California law. “Given the status of the species alone, an EIR should have been prepared, rather than a mitigated negative declaration,” Keats wrote in an e-mail to The Grizzly.

Keats said the Center believes the proposed project is “fundamentally incompatible with the continued existence of bald eagles in the city of Big Bear Lake, if not the entire Valley.” He said there is little adequate eagle habitat remaining around Big Bear Lake, the project could have a drastic impact on the entire bald eagle regional population.

Councilwoman Liz Harris suggested the City Council table the matter until its next meeting to have time to review several letters of opposition received that night. She said the letters were from individuals and agencies known for strong opposition to development and said they were also the most litigious.

Councilman Michael Karp said the eagle habitat is his biggest concern. He read from a lengthy prepared statement asking the council to direct staff to do further studies on the impact of development on the bald eagle. He said the studies are outdated. “Remember the Alamo, remember the Hilton,” Karp said.

“Are you suggesting a Valleywide study based on this project?” Councilman Bill Jahn asked. Karp said no, he is only seeking justification for further study. Karp’s motion to request staff to provide additional studies on the status of development in the Valley and how the proposed project might impact the bald eagle habitat died for lack of a second.

The matter will return to the City Council for consideration at its next meeting on Dec. 8. The Nov. 24 meeting was canceled due to the Thanksgiving holiday. On Dec. 8, the council will consider adopting a mitigated negative declaration and mitigation measure monitoring program. Also included are approval of a general plan amendment and zone change application requesting a change from single-family residential to multiple-family residential. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Contact reporter Judi Bowers at 909-866-3456, ext. 137 or by e-mail at jbowers.grizzly@gmail.com.

Reference Link:

http://www.bigbeargrizzly.net:80/articl ... eagles.txt

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