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County Council dismisses appeal claiming impropriety in Cathcart development approval

CATHCART — The County Council last week dismissed a land-use appeal crying foul to how county officials approved 286 townhomes at state Route 9 and Cathcart Way. Opponents say it’s not over.
“I’m going all the way to the state Supreme Court,” appellant Debbie Wetzel reiterated last week.
The council’s decision came a week after initial arguments over county surplus land bought in 2020 by developer D.R. Horton were heard.
The council dismissed arguments such as that the county didn’t give proper notice on the property and that the county hearing examiner had a conflict of interest on making a land-use decision about county property.
The project isn’t fully in the clear.
In late September, Wetzel filed a separate appeal contesting that a park-and-ride lot adjacent to this site should have been subject to an environmental impact statement (EIS) study. D.R. Horton agreed to build the park-and-ride along Highway 9 to get a discount on its land purchase for the townhouse project.
That hearing is scheduled to happen in January.
Wetzel’s attorney Rick Aramburu said he was disappointed in the County Council’s dismissal.
They still say county planners were not transparent in disclosing that there was a 2020 agreement to sell the land to Pacific Ridge Homes, a subsidiary of developer D.R. Horton.
Last week, the council dismissed this disclosure argument after receiving information that the document was available as a record people could have requested before the June hearing.
Opponents say the general public wouldn’t have been obviously aware there was a purchase-and-sale document to make that request, though, and that it wasn’t in the hearing examiner’s list of evidence.
Two entities requested copies of Horton’s purchase-and-sale agreements, but who or why wasn’t disclosed at last week’s hearing.
One of the requestors, Aramburu believes, was another company that knew about the land sale and was interested in buying the property.
“The only people aware were people who wanted to develop the property,” Aramburu told the Tribune.
At a fall 2017 open house, residents were shown an example concept to build 139 townhomes and five commercial pads that replicated a town square. Residents generally liked this “urban village” idea.
A second concept shown at the open house was heavily residential, which is closer to what D.R. Horton submitted.
D.R. Horton did a site walk of the property in mid-2017 before the county opened it up for bids from developers, an email chain shows.
The county opened the property for bids in July 2018. Soon after, D.R. Horton filed a letter of intent to buy.
Because D.R. Horton had the fast-track on the property, this could have discouraged other developers from filing bids. What the county had left for choices was just Horton’s proposal for 286 townhomes, a mini-storage center and a fast food restaurant.
The site had another suitor.
At least two companies responded to a public call for offers to develop the property: D.R. Horton and TRF Pacific. TRF withdrew in December 2019.
TRF Pacific’s plan, through its architect, would have followed the “urban village” concept with housing, retail and entertainment.
The county was already drafting a purchase-and-sale agreement with D.R. Horton at the time.



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