Divided City Council Votes to Consider Minimum Lot Size

Mayor Scott Mann (left) and deputy mayor Wallace Edgerton discuss a proposed limit on lot sizes ...

Mayor Scott Mann (left) and deputy mayor Wallace Edgerton discuss a proposed limit on lot sizes in Menifee.
Virtually everyone in Menifee agrees there should be some kind of control over the remaining undeveloped land within city limits.

The extent of that control -- and the process by which that extent is determined -- is a hotly debated topic, however. And that starts right at the top of city government.

Council member Wallace Edgerton, who once told a reporter to note how well the current council members got along, found himself in the middle of a heated conversation in Wednesday night's meeting. A discussion item placed on the agenda at his request turned into a lengthy debate behind the dais over housing density in the city.

The ensuing discussion resulted in a 3-2 vote setting in motion a public hearing proposing minimum lot sizes of 15,000 square feet and no additional apartments in the remaining un-entitled land in Menifee -- roughly 11-15 percent of the total land in the city.

The topic of land density is not a new one. However, Edgerton drew the ire of mayor Scott Mann by sending out an email under his private account to 24 individuals in the community, urging them to attend Wednesday's meeting and speak in support of his planned motion.

The email, obtained and read to the audience by an angered Mann, stated that the "possible motion" in support of such a moratorium would be, in part, for the purposes of:

-- Easing traffic.

-- Stabilizing Menifee’s home prices.

-- Generating more city revenue from higher income buyers.

-- Protecting the city's water supply.

The email concluded by saying, "If you believe in such a policy, you are encouraged to come to the meeting (Wednesday the 6th) and speak to the issue. The full council will not vote for such a policy but the majority might."

Edgerton's motion during the meeting was seconded by August and was read from a prepared statement, which he left the dais to hand-deliver to reporters at the press table. It proposed that:

-- All future housing developments must have a minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet (roughly one-third of an acre).

-- The rural area shall have a minimum lot size of one acre.

-- A moratorium on any further development of apartments shall take effect immdediately.

-- An amendment be made to the city's general plan, if necessary, to accommodate the changes.

Mann voiced strong objections to Edgerton's tactic of inviting selected supporters via private email, as well as to the email's description of a "possible motion" for what was listed on the agenda as being "for discussion only."

"For you to incite public commenters to speak to this issue is irresponsible," said Mann to Edgerton, seated right next to him. "You've been strong arming projects before they go to the full city council. Wally, the City of Menifee is not going to be governed by you."

Mann's reference was to meetings with developers Edgerton has admitted having at his home. At least one such meeting succeeded in convincing Brookfield Residential developers to increase the size of some lots within the latest phase of Audie Murphy Ranch.

Edgerton responded that Mann has had the same type of meetings, and that "every developer I've met with has called and asked to come to see me. I didn't seek them out. As far as discussing things in my home, I've done what I feel is best to serve the community. I have nothing to apologize for."

Edgerton apparently knew he had the votes. After a 90-minute debate among council members and testimony on both sides of the issue from residents and developers, Edgerton was joined by council members August and Tom Fuhrman in voting to direct staff to set up a public hearing and send to the Planning Commission the issue of housing density for additional consideration. Opposing council members Mann and John Denver were outvoted.

The position taken by Edgerton, and supported by August and Fuhrman, is that in addition to reducing traffic congestion, the creation of larger lots for new homes and prohibition of new apartment complexes would stabilize and improve existing home prices; place emphasis on commercial, such as high-end retail, theaters and sports facilities; reduce crime; and protect the city's rural feel.

The opposing position of Mann and Denver is that home buyers should have a choice of lot size among developments that include a variety of configurations. They heard testimony from a few developers, including Mike White, whose company developed the Heritage Lakes community. White said the larger lots in that development are 10,000 square feet, and that such a development with larger lots wouldn't generate enough revenue to pay for the infrastructure.

In addition, Mann was adamant in opposing an amendment to the general plan to address only this issue. He noted that the general plan was just adopted last December and has already been amended twice this year -- only two times less than the maximum allowed. He also pointed out that Edgerton and the entire council had approved that general plan, which did not include any minimum limit on lot sizes.

"In October, it will be six years that the city has been incorporated," Mann said. "In that time, we've spent $1.3 million developing a general plan, had 16 meetings of a general plan advisory committee, 12 meetings of the Planning Commission and three meetings of the City Council about this. We have a general plan this board unanimously approved.

"We have a plethora of issues staff wants us to address related to the general plan. If you want to have a healthy discussion about this, let's do it. But this motion is premature."

After the meeting, Edgerton said he voted to approve the original general plan to expedite the process because time was running out for city approval before some matters of city government would be taken out of city officials' hands. It took the city more than five years to approve the plan -- past the deadline required by the state.

City manager Rob Johnson agreed to provide a map showing the exact location of un-entitled land remaining in the city for future discussion. The Planning Commission will also consider the subject and by law, the public would have the opportunity to address the issue at a public hearing.



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