Should a measure be placed on the November ballot allowing a builder to move around some open space to accommodate a proposed 29-home development at the Oaks Farm? The Planning Commission said no Tuesday night.
The 20.64-acre property – owned by Joan Irvine Smith of the pioneering Irvine family – , and Shea Homes of Walnut is willing to develop it and preserve the equestrian facilities, if it can rearrange the open space.
Currently, about half of the property, 10.31 acres, is designated open space. It runs along the creek on the south side of the property.
Shea Homes would like to reconfigure the open space and increase it slightly, to 10.51 acres, moving it to the east of the property and having the housing development .
But residents of the Mission Springs tract said they like the open space right where it is.
“This is our backyard view. This is what we see from our back yard,” said Dale Rosenfeldt. “We paid a premium for that, believe me.”
If the city is so willing to alter open space, “then what is sacred? What can other homeowners bank on?” Rosenfeldt asked.
In fact, it is only the voters who can approve any changes to land designated as open space. Measure X, a ballot initiative approved in 2008, set up such a system.
Nearby resident Emily Burke said the character of the open space would change dramatically if it were reconfigured. Right now, it serves the entire community, who come with their dogs and children, as well as horses.
In the design Shea Homes wants, the open space would only serve the future residents of the proposed gated community, Burke said.
“It’s very much a community-use area,” she said.
Two of the planning commissioners were leaning in favor of the project, but in the end, they voted 6-1 to recommend the City Council not move forward with a ballot initiative. Commissioner Ginny Kerr was the lone dissenter.
Kerr said the development of equestrian-themed communities, such as Nellie Gail in Laguna Hills or Coto de Caza, enhance neighboring home values. And, she wants to preserve San Juan Capistrano’s reputation as the center of all things equestrian on the West Coast.
“We’re losing stables right and left,” Kerr said. “If we’re serious that’s what we’re about, than we need to be supportive of those who would support that mission.”
Bob Yoder, president of Shea’s Southern California division, said the project is very unusual for its size and character. It’s not often the developer is fighting to preserve heritage oak trees and world-renown equestrian facilities.
“We would argue it’s a preservation plan; it’s not a development plan,” Yoder said.
But residents said they only see a profit motive.
“I would say it’s much more profitable to put a house by the creek than Ortega, just logically,” said Mission Springs resident Mark Speros.
Commissioners and staff noted that the property owner does have the right to build as many as 35 homes on the property, they would just be on the other side, where the derby area and other equestrian facilities are.
That would be OK with Speros, he said. At least he wouldn’t have to look out his yard and stare at two-story homes blocking his current view of trees and mountains.
The City Council is expected to take up the issue July 17, when it will decide whether the matter should be placed on the November ballot.