Decision Delayed On 11,000-Unit Project

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors has postponed until January a decision on a new town proposal that has drawn significant opposition from hunters, bird watchers and environmentalists because of the 2,800-acre project site's close proximity to the San Jacinto Wildlife Area.

Lewis Group of Companies' proposal is called Villages of Lakeview. It would contain 11,500 housing units, a shopping center, offices, a number of community facilities and 32 miles of bike lanes, trails and paseos. About half of the site would be used for parks or preserved as open space.

Hunters and bird watchers have led the opposition to the project because the 10,000-acre wildlife area, which includes Mystic Lake, provides habitat for many birds traveling north and south on the Pacific Flyway, as well as for resident bird populations. The farmland on which Lewis proposes development also provides bird habitat. In addition, the wildlife area, which the state pieced together during the 1970s and 1980s, provides habitat for about 25 special-status plant and animal species.

Although Lewis's design includes a 500-foot buffer and earthen berm between the wildlife area and homes, opponents say the project would change the nature of the area. "San Jacinto Wildlife Area effectively would be turned into an urban park with all of the associated problems of trash, feral cats and vandalism," wrote syndicated outdoors writer Jim Matthews, who noted the wildlife area is one of the few places in metropolitan Southern California where hunting is permitted.

After hearing from more than a dozen project opponents during a mid-December hearing, supervisors delayed a decision until staff members have time to respond to questions and concerns. Lewis's project website is www.thevillagesoflakeview.com.