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Rancho Ortega Blog discusses matters of public interest in South Orange County, including the communities of San Juan Capistrano, Ladera Ranch and Rancho Mission Viejo.

The writings of Don Juan Ortega on the Rancho Ortega Blog are the personal views of the author. This blog is not authored by nor does it have any affiliation whatsoever with any other person, place or entity using the name "Rancho Ortega" (or any similar name).

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An Introduction to Planning Area 2

With the success of Sendero (originally known to some of us as Planning Area 1), Rancho Mission Viejo is already working on Planning Area 2:

For those who are just starting the home shopping process, Rancho Mission Viejo would still welcome you out. As Johnson explained, “We’re already working on Planning Area 2 to begin construction late this year, with anticipation to bring it to a grand opening in late 2015.”

This seems like a good time to summarize what we know about Planning Area 2.

According to this article in the Orange County Business Journal, “[a]bout 3,000 homes and apartments are planned for the second, larger phase. The developer said this phase could open in late 2015, depending on market conditions.”

The OCTA blog has talked about the traffic expected to result from Planning Area 2.

Crews are grading the first leg of Cow Camp Road just as residents are about to move into Sendero, the first community in a planned 14,000-home project east of San Juan Capistrano. This section of the road will open in mid 2015 as a two-lane street that extends less than 11/2 miles east from Antonio Parkway and parallel to Ortega, and reach the second planned community, dubbed “Planning Area 2” for now.

We have predicted some traffic problems and congestion based on the Cow Camp Road configuration.  You can read our concerns here.  The image below shows the planned roadways for Planning Areas 2 and 3, sourced from the Master Plan of Arterial Highways (June 2012):

Proposed Rancho Mission Viejo Roads (image source: OCTA Master Plan of Arterial Highways, June 2012)

Frankly, it sounds like OCTA and Caltrans share our concerns about the traffic impact of the Ranch Plan:

At rush hour, Ortega is clogged with commuters winding their way into Orange County from as far as San Jacinto, and San Juan Capistrano residents who live along the route fear Rancho Mission Viejo will make it harder to enter and exit their neighborhoods. Some are hopeful Cow Camp will relieve the pressure, but they are also skeptical the connection to Ortega will happen soon enough.

…  “Traffic is horrible now, and there is no one living out there.”A 2004 environmental report projected 67 percent of Cow Camp Road traffic will be from Rancho Mission Viejo residents. The remaining 33 percent would be Riverside-area commuters and San Juan Capistrano residents traveling to Antonio Parkway, or to I-5 via Crown Valley or Oso parkways, or to the 241 toll road, if it is extended.

That is expected to bring some relief to the I-5/Ortega interchange, a choke point that is being widened.  Still, “the future of Ortega is more traffic,” Caltrans spokesman David Richardson said.

As new phases of the Rancho Mission Viejo project begin, the developer will provide updated traffic estimates.

A March report prepared in advance of Planning Area 2′s launch forecast delays at several intersections along Crown Valley Parkway in Mission Viejo, including at the northbound on-ramp to I-5. But Public Works Director Mark Chagnon said city officials are comfortable there will be enough capacity thanks to recent widening projects.

Ranch officials estimate they have spent $22 million so far to improve streets in the region, including work on Ortega, Antonio, Crown Valley and Oso. Under a regional plan by the county, it is committed to spending an additional $120 million. Cow Camp Road is part of that plan.

The San Clemente Times has a great and detailed article on the Ranch Plan and what it means for South Orange County.  For example, the article discusses the impacts of Rancho Mission Viejo on local schools:

During a presentation to the Capistrano Unified School District in late January, ranch representatives told the school board that about 4,561 students are expected to come into the district from Rancho Mission Viejo. The majority of the student population influx would likely be in Kindergarten through fifth grade, around 2,724 students. About 991 students are projected for grades six through eight with another 846 for high school. In the early going, about 408 students are expected to come from Sendero and another 1,126 from Planning Area 2.

Because a substantial percentage of new homes in Rancho Mission Viejo will be age qualified, the burden on CUSD schools is expected to be much less than a community that was entirely market rate (i.e., no age qualified housing).  In addition, Rancho Mission Viejo Company has “identified a site for a new K-8 school in Planning Area 2 that will be constructed by the district and is estimated to open in 2016 or 2017, according to ranch spokesperson Diane Gaynor.”

The San Clemente Times article is a good one and we encourage you to read it in its entirety.  In addition to the impact on schools, the article also touches on the development from several other important perspectives.

For example, there are questions about Planning Area 2 related to the proposed Tesoro Extension of the 241 which, due to an adverse decision by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board looks less likely than ever to be built. We’ve discussed whether the Ranch Plan requires the 241 in this article (hint: it doesn’t).  We’ve discussed whether the recent refinancing agreement between the TCA and Caltrans has effectively killed any toll road extensions in this article (hint: it might).

In addition, development of Planning Area 2 invites more questions about local governance options for the area, and that involves Orange County LAFCO.  We introduced you to LAFCO and their role in the cityhood discussion in this article.  We’ve also talked a lot about local governance and cityhood on this blog.  You might start with some of these articles.

But none of the above information is particularly new.  We know what you are thinking: “isn’t there anything more you can tell us about Planning Area 2?

Yes, there is.

First, let’s start with a recap.  Below is the Ranch Plan map.  You can see the Planning Area 2 development bubble there east of Antonio Parkway, but largely lying west of the proposed 241 Tesoro Extension.  There’s a small bubble just south of Tesoro High School, but most of the PA2 bubble lies near the future intersection of Cow Camp Road and the 241 (or whatever road takes its place).

Ranch Plan Map

Planning Area 2 consists of approximately 850 acres.  In addition to the 3,000 units mentioned by the OC Business Journal, the original development plan called for some retail and a large neighborhood park.  We have learned that Planning Area 2 will contain neighborhood retail, child care, the above-mentioned school and other support services.  The residential mix will include both age-qualified and market rate housing.

Architectural firm SWA Group has posted a case study that provides some glimpses into Planning Area 2.  A recent SWA press release describes the project as follows:

Currently the largest new-home community underway in Orange County, [Rancho] Mission Viejo’s eight phases of planned housing will encompass 6,000 acres of the 23,000 acre site, the remainder of which will remain as open space, native habitat and the working ranch now operating there. According to SWA Principal Sean O’Malley in Laguna Beach, CA, SWA is designing for the Rancho Mission Viejo Company a phase two community of 3,000 homes on 850 acres, blending into the natural surroundings and topology. The project is also setting itself apart in creating a “town center” component to complement the housing so that residents have a place to gather, shop and relax.

Below we’ve annotated an illustrative project map with the various components of Planning Area 2.

Illustrative Plan for Planning Area 2 (original image credit: SWA Group)

Obviously, development plans can and do change, so the above is not fixed in stone, nor do we have verification that this is the final map.  Nevertheless, for those of us who are interested in this city of Rancho Mission Viejo being built around us, it is always interesting to glimpse the future.

We know that Planning Area 2 will occupy the top of a hill, adjacent to Chiquita Canyon. Note the impacted ridgeline that runs right down the spine of Planning Area 2 (this is an older map, but the Planning Area 2 bubble remains largely in place):

Planning Area 2 Impacted Ridgeline

Ladera Ranch residents will be pleased to know that much of Planning Area 2 will be hidden from their view by an intervening ridgeline — this is the ridgeline that you see to the east when driving on Antonio through Ladera Ranch. As a result, both Ladera Ranch and the new Planning Area 2 will have the feeling of being surrounded by open space in spite of their proximity to one another, which is a good thing. Of course, whether that open space is accessible to residents remains to be seen. We think that the land between Ladera Ranch and Planning Area 2 is a prime candidate for dedication to open public access, and further, to the extent that Rancho Mission Viejo is linking its villages with bike paths and NEV lanes, we would suggest an east/west linkage that connects Ladera Ranch to the new Planning Area 2 through this open space.

Here is another view of Planning Area 2 from the SWA Group case study:

Planning Area 2 Community Structure (image credit: SWA Group)

Note the spine of the hilltop illustrated on the map.  Also, if you assume that the ridgeline runs down the middle of the development, you can assume that homes on the west side will have nice views of the open space, while homes on the east side may potentially be looking down on the 241.   It is no surprise, then, that the high value, low density homes seem to be located on the west side, while the high density units, schools and retail seem to be located on the east side.  Again, we don’t know if the maps above represent the final plans, but they are interesting nonetheless.  Just as early versions of Planning Area 1 were reasonably close to the final plans for Sendero, so are these maps likely to closely resemble the final plans for Planning Area 2.

The above maps also raise some questions.  Here are some initial thoughts on Planning Area 2:

  • Where is the age-qualified housing going to be?  Approximately 40% of Rancho Mission Viejo will be age qualified housing, and we know Planning Area 2 will have some, but where?  One possibility is the freestanding area north of Chiquita Canyon Parkway near the regional retail.  One can imagine two gated entries (one from the south and one from the east) and you will note that the community structure includes both high-density and low-density housing, as well as separate community amenities.  It almost looks like a community within a community, as you’d expect a gated age-qualified enclave to look.  In addition, by putting the age-qualified residents furthest from Cow Camp Road and close to retail, you are reducing the traffic through the rest of the community.  That’s just our guess, though.
  • What will the regional retail offer?  This question is important on several levels.  Aesthetically, it will start to define the “look and feel” of Rancho Mission Viejo as a community.  The Irvine Spectrum looks very different than the Tustin Auto Center, and yet both are consistent with “regional retail.”  Indeed, this regional retail could be a cluster of big box stores or auto dealerships, a medical center and related health care products and services, a shopping mall, a hotel, cultural destinations (like a museum or art district), churches or something eclectic like the SOCO South Coast Collection.  The regional retail could have a suburban feel, with expanses of parking lots and drive throughs, or it could offer something more intimate and sophisticated.  And further, with 40% of the residents living in 55-and-over housing, how will the retail mix address the unique wants and needs of that demographic (and will it do so to the exclusion of the market rate residents)?
  • On a different note but still related to the issue of regional retail, local governance planning requires us to ask what type of tax base this regional retail center will generate.  Ladera Ranch lacks any significant retail.  Sendero lacks any significant retail.  Las Flores lacks any significant retail.  None of those areas generate sufficient tax revenue to offset the cost of services provided to the residents.  Now Planning Area 2 may have one zone potentially generating significant tax revenue, but not all tax revenue is created equal.  Some of the highest tax generating businesses are not necessarily the most desirable from a community design and aesthetic perspective: auto dealerships being the prime example.  Yet, auto dealerships are one of the reasons that Rancho Santa Margarita is fiscally stable, and auto dealerships are critical to San Juan Capistrano’s fiscal health.  Hotels are also major tax generators, but how do you drive visitors to a hotel in the midst of a residential master planned community?
  • There seems to be ample land dedicated to trails and parks, including two very large parks: the named Oak Canyon Park in the south and the unnamed park in the north.  In addition, a robust collection of trails through and around Planning Area 2 is reminiscent of the highly successful Ladera Ranch trail system.  We don’t see any references to NEV lanes in the maps, but we suspect they will be there, connecting different parts of PA2 and connecting PA2 with Sendero and the other Rancho Mission Viejo villages.  We’ve written about NEVs in the Ranch Plan here.
  • And of course, what will Planning Area 2 be named?  There are infinite possibilities, but we do know that Rancho Mission Viejo is fond a spanish names that reflect the area.  If Sendero is the “path,” Planning Area 2 is going to be the village on a hilltop.  How about La Cumbre?  You can have that one royalty-free, Rancho Mission Viejo Company!

As always, thank you for reading.  It’s fun to speculate about the future of our area.  Let’s hope the real estate market remains strong so that Rancho Mission Viejo Company can fully and properly execute its vision for the future city of Rancho Mission Viejo.

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