Major Residential Development Proposed in Rialto, Calif.

RIALTO - The City Council will take up a massive residential project tonight that could transform sparsely populated land south of Rialto.

The 726-home, 165-acre development is being proposed by Young Homes.

The Young Homes proposal includes homes, parks, gazebos, tot-lots and trails on unincorporated land the city would annex south of the city, north of El Rivino Road on both sides of Cactus Avenue.

It is so big that the city would need to build a new fire station south of Interstate 10, and Young Homes would have to spend more than $20 million making improvements to nearby roads and building storm drains and sewers.

In addition to road, sewer and storm-drain improvements, the development agreement calls for the project to pay $4.5 million toward the construction of a $6.5 million fire station, as well as about $15,000 per house in development fees to the city. The current fee is about $11,500 per unit, but the city is preparing to increase it.

Other than what it provides to the city in tax revenue, the development would not have to pay to operate the fire station, which would cost up to $1.5 million a year.

Although the new station would be built in large part to serve the Young Homes development, Economic Development Director Robb Steel said council members told him the development should not have to pay more than its fair share to operate the fire station because there is already a need for it.

"They're paying some pretty hefty fees," Councilman Ed Scott said. He said the city needs a new fire station south of the freeway regardless of the fate of this project.

The city predicts the project will cost the General Fund $1.1 million to $1.4 million a year once the project is fully developed, not including infrastructure improvements the city will need to make to the land it would annex. Scott said those expenses are necessary if the city is to grow.

Michael Townsend, a spokesman for the Colton Joint Unified School District, which would serve the project, said the district is in negotiations with Young Homes to determine the size of the development fees. He said the schools near the project are near capacity.

Bloomington resident Pam Geil said the development should not move forward until Bloomington's efforts to incorporate have been completed. The project would be built on land that Bloomington residents want to incorporate.

"There was absolutely no discussion with the Bloomington area on this project at all. Absolutely none," she said.

She complained about the potential effect on local schools, traffic, open space and the loss of the El Rivino Country Club. New homes would be built on the former site of the club.

The city's environmental- impact report says the project will cause air pollution and the loss of agricultural land - problems that can't be mitigated.

The project would also be developed next to TXI Riverside Cement Company plant, whose owner sent the city a letter questioning whether putting the development next to a cement plant would make sense because of problems, including traffic congestion and noise. Sales agreements for the homes in the project will inform homeowners about potential problems because of the cement plant.

The county's Local Agency Formation Commission will review the project before allowing annexation of land south of the city. The commission's executive director, Kathleen Rollings-McDonald, said it will make sure the city will be able to provide adequate city services before approving the annexation. The city will also have to annex four pieces of county land on the city's north end in order to annex the project area.

In 2005 and 2006, Young Homes donated at least $90,000 to Rialto political campaigns. It donated almost $27,000 to Councilwoman Deborah Robertson's 2006 campaign and $13,500 to Councilman Ed Scott in 2005. In 2005, it also donated $20,000 to real estate developer Scott Beard's Rialto Taxpayers Association, which supported Robertson and former Councilman Joe Sampson last year, and attacked Councilman Joe Baca Jr. during his successful campaign for the council.

Scott said Young Homes is getting the same treatment as anyone else, and that he wouldn't vote for it if he didn't think it was a good project.

"It has nothing to do with campaign contributions," he said.

Young Homes could not be reached for comment.

At tonight's meeting the council also will:

Consider buying seven acres of conservation credits for the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly in order to improve the Riverside Avenue interchange over Interstate 10. To purchase the land, the council could also approve an agreement with San Bernardino Associated Governments in which the city will front $18.8 million that Sanbag later will reimburse for the project.

Consider hiring a consultant to study the downtown and come up with a strategic plan for its development.