If a City of San Diego hearing officer approves Urbn Leaf’s application to open a cannabis outlet at the former El Torito restaurant in Rancho Bernardo, the community’s Planning Board is prepared to appeal the decision.

The application was scheduled to go before a hearing officer on Wednesday morning.

That hearing has been continued to Nov. 2 at the request of the applicant, according to RB Planning Board Chair Robin Kaufman, who said the board was notified on Tuesday afternoon. No reason for the continuance was given to the board.

When the board met on Sept. 15, members voted 7-4 to plan on filing an appeal to the city’s Planning Commission. They said voting on an appeal could not wait until their October meeting due to there being a 14-day window to file an appeal.

Board member Patrick Batten, who made the motion, said time is of the essence and reasons to oppose the outlet will not change.

Earlier in the meeting the board voted unanimously to send a letter stating its opposition to Urbn Leaf’s proposal to operate a cannabis outlet in a 6,647-square-foot space within the 11,930-square-foot commercial building at 16375 Bernardo Center Drive.

Phil Rath, who spoke on behalf of Urbn Leaf and owner Will Senn, who was at the meeting, said the Municipal Code allows path of travel to be used for measurements, not “as the crow flies.”

“It is the rules in effect at the time the application was deemed complete,” Rath said, adding it was completed in early 2019.

Board and community members said they disagreed with Urbn Leaf’s view that an outlet at that location is permissible within the city’s Municipal Code.

According to Rath, the company installed fencing and a wall that extends the path of travel enough to meet the minimum standards. He said it is now more than 1,000 feet from a religious facility or school and 100 feet from a residential area.

In the letter board Chair Robin Kaufman sent to the city, the all-volunteer group stated it disagreed with the interpretation of measurements between sensitive uses. These include Hope United Methodist Church and homes in Bernardo Heights that have an adjacent property line with the proposed outlet.

“The community strongly objects to the overall appropriateness of the proposed project at this location,” Kaufman wrote, noting there are minor-oriented businesses within 1,000 feet. These include the Kumon Learning Center and Dressed 2 Dance store. She also mentioned that families frequent restaurants in the shopping center.

Kaufman also stated in the letter that current city regulations do not allow the proposed cannabis outlet at such a location.

“It should be taken into consideration that the applicant was aware that the Church is located within 1,000 feet of the proposed cannabis outlet prior to their application per their offer to buy the Church’s driveway in 2018,” Kaufman wrote. “The Church declined the offer. Later in 2018 the applicant, by their own admission, then paid for and constructed a wall to close off a direct access route to the Church in an effort to increase the distance between the applicant and the Church.

“For decades, this route provided convenient and safe pedestrian access to the center’s restaurants and other businesses for local residents in Bernardo Heights and visitors to the Church,” she wrote. “The construction of the wall, which eliminated this access for pedestrian travel, was a self-serving end around that only benefited the applicant to increase the distance for separation. … the applicant-built wall should be excluded and the original path of travel should be used for measurement in the separation between uses.”

According to the letter, the board also “strongly disagrees” with the city’s interpretation on the separation between homes and the proposed outlet, since eight properties are within 100 feet, including two on Corte Templaza that share a common property line. Changes to the Municipal Code do not apply, according to the board.

Eric Young, representing City Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert, read a statement to share her views on the application.

“She understands that even after staff responses, the community is still uncomfortable with the proximity to sensitive uses and how the measurements were applied,” Young said. “The Councilmember also shares those concerns and is opposed to the proposed location at this time.

“Because of these concerns, Councilmember von Wilpert would like to request that the measurements be rechecked to confirm their accuracy and ensure that all aspects are in compliance,” Young said. “Her preference would be that the applicant hire a third party engineer to verify the measurements and submit those to the Development Services Department for review.”

Rath said the distances he was claiming, including that the church and proposed outlet are now 1,090 feet apart due to the barrier, were based on Google Earth. In response to von Wilpert’s request, he said Urbn Leaf could get an engineer to measure the distances to verify their accuracy.

Several community members, who also attended meetings in 2019 and 2020 to state their objections, said their positions have not changed. In addition, some said they are not opposed to a cannabis outlet opening in Rancho Bernardo if it is in a less visible location that meets the distance requirements from homes, religious facilities, schools and minor-oriented businesses.

9:28 a.m. Sept. 21, 2022: Story updated to say the applicant requested a hearing continuance to Nov. 2.

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