Another project is in the redevelopment icebox.
City leaders said Tuesday they are unable to make some important decisions about whether to buy open space next to a large, upscale retirement community eager to build on Rancho Capistrano. They said they are at the mercy of the California Supreme Court,
"Are we supposed to go into a holding pattern again?" Troy Bourne, vice president of Continuing Life Communities, asked the council Tuesday. "We’ve already been there. How long does this go before you say as a council, 'We want to pursue this'?"
Finding an Access Route
The application to build 415 residential units on 35 acres has been stalled while the city applied to the California Public Utilities Commission to convert a private railroad crossing at Camino Capistrano into a public one for an access route into the ranch.
Bourne said the Orange County Transportation Authority warned him that would be an uphill battle because of safety issues and advised him to speak with private property owners in Laguna Niguel to access the Ranch from that city instead.
Now, Bourne said he's close to reaching a deal with to allow access via Star Drive, near the oddly shaped intersection of Paseo de la Colina and Camino Capistrano.
Although they weren't ready to make any formal decisions about the project, council members asked city staffers to process CLC's application to build as quickly as possible.
"While our hands are tied, I hope staff’s hands aren’t tied with processing the application … because I hope I live long enough to be able to live in this place," said Mayor Sam Allevato. "I liked this project from the very beginning."
Protecting Open Space
The most important decision city officials will have to make is whether they should hang onto a 2009 agreement with Continuing Life Communities that gives the city and the option to purchase, for $10 million, 116 of the 150 acres CLC will buy from Rancho Capistrano's new property owner, .
The intention is that public ownership would forever keep the large, undeveloped swath protected from commercial and residential construction and preserved instead for recreation. In the city's master planning document, the land is not zoned for open space and could only be kept forever from developers under some very limited circumstances, city planners said.
Terminating the option agreement would allow the developers to move forward more quickly, but the City Council it is not ready to toss aside the agreement that took "many people many hours" to hammer out.
At the same time, it is not sure it would ever actually buy the property. When the agreement was signed, the then-City Council planned to use redevelopment "tax increment" to fund the purchase.
"I want a more thorough report as to the value of the option agreement, because a lot of people put a lot of time putting that option together," Councilman John Taylor told city planners.
Bourne wants to see the agreement lifted. He told the City Council Tuesday night that it's like a cloud over the property and suggested it make a decision about the option agreement even if the redevelopment agency cannot.
"It’s difficult for us to negotiate in good faith with Laguna Niguel when they say, 'Demonstrate San Juan Capistrano is serious about your proposals,' and you’re not willing to act on this," he told the council.
There will be open-space components, Bourne said. "The question is whether the city will own it or whether we will own it."
If the city relinqueshes the option agreement, CLC plans to keep 95 of the remaining 116 acres open and undeveloped.
But if CLC sells the ranch and "someone comes back 10 years later and wants to cdevelop it, that would be OK because the General Plan doesn’t call for it" to be open space, said Grant Taylor, director of development for San Juan Capistrano.
Changes in Ownership
The 170-acre Rancho Capistrano is now owned by Saddleback Church, which had been as an overnight retreat center and pastor training location. Hobby Lobby, a nationwide arts-and-crafts retailer that purchased the land from last year, announced earlier this month .
The sale is not expected to throw a wrench in CLC's acquisition.