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City Council Will Consider Apartment Rezoning Proposal Tonight

We previously linked to a Capistrano Unified Trustee’s op-ed in the SJC Patch arguing against the request for rezoning submitted by the developer of a proposed 100-unit Rancho San Juan apartment complex near San Juan Hills High School.  That link is here.  We described that op-ed as arguing that “the proposed zoning change should be denied for two reasons: first, because La Pata cannot handle the existing school traffic plus the additional traffic generated by a 100 unit apartment complex, and second, because building the apartment complex on the property would effectively prevent San Juan Hills from expanding its capacity to absorb priority students from Talega and Rancho Mission Viejo while remaining a receiving school under CUSD’s open enrollment policy.”

Now the Patch has published a rebuttal from a representative of the developer.  The rebuttal is available here.  In it, planning consultant Phillip Schwartze seems to argue that the apartment project ought to be approved because the City wants affordable housing there and because the developer is willing to fund expensive traffic improvements that will mitigate both apartment traffic and improve existing school traffic.  As usual, there is more in the opinion piece, so read the whole thing.  This paragraph, however, caught our eye:

Twice a day, during the school year and during school hours, the school traffic problem exists and is expected to get worse.  Because CUSD has no plans to add traffic improvements for either the existing or future 600-800 additional students to the school traffic, the land owners felt it incumbent upon themselves to add a new traffic signal and other traffic enhancing elements to the apartment project plans to improve the situation knowing CUSD is not prepared to do what is needed to improve the situation.

It is always difficult to discern tone from the written word, but is the developer really taking the position that it is doing us a favor by building a 100 unit apartment building on a dead-end street adjacent to a large public high school, and that this is all somehow the school district’s fault?  Look, maybe this is true as presented, but we’ve never met a real estate developer who takes on unnecessary expenses because it “felt it incumbent upon themselves…to improve the situation.” Developers spend money to make money, period.  So consider me skeptical of that claim.

Maybe the City wants more affordable housing, and maybe they once suggested that this location might be a suitable spot for it, but it seems fairly obvious that none of the local constituents want an apartment building there (affordable or otherwise).  It would be one thing is the land was zoned for high density residential and this was an attempt by NIMBYs to retroactively block development.  But that’s not the case.  This land isn’t and never was zoned for high density multi-dwelling residential.  There is a legitimate question as to whether the proposed use is appropriate for that location, and that’s why this is controversial.

No doubt, the developer would disagree.  The developer suggests that CUSD is opposing the zoning change in an attempt to force the developer to sell the land to the school district:

On Jan. 8, the trustees of the school board admitted that their issue with the apartment project was not traffic after all.  The CUSD Board is desirous of the San Juan Capistrano City Council to not approve the apartment homes so CUSD might have a chance to buy the property to build a parking lot.  However at no time has the CUSD board, in the last decade, discussed a potential purchase of the apartment site or any of the other nearby vacant property with the landowner.

To add further intrigue to tonight’s debate at City Council, the City staff has recently reversed itself and is now in favor of granting the developer’s rezoning application.  SJC Patch article on that about-face here.  Recall that the Planning Commission initially recommended against approval, and the City staff initially agreed.  And to add insult to injury, the staff’s revised report is suggesting that Capistrano Unified — not the developer — ought to pay for some of the traffic mitigation measures.  From the staff report:

“As demonstrated by the project’s traffic impact analysis, these improvements are neither attributable to nor necessitated by the proposed Rancho San Juan Apartments project,” the report states.

Ouch.  Maybe San Juan Hills teachers can take a couple extra furlough days to pay for the apartment building’s ingress and egress.

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