Planning Commission: Oaks’ Open Space “Land Swap” Has Too Many Unanswered Questions

Editorial

How can voters make an informed decision when they don’t know what they’re voting for? That was the question behind the Planning Commission’s 6-1 vote recommending that the City Council NOT approve placing The Oaks/Shea Homes Open Space “land swap” on the ballot in November. The Council is set to decide the issue on Tuesday, July 17.

To provide some background; The Oaks property owned in principal by Joan Irvine-Smith has asked for a General Plan Amendment (“GPA”) to swap some of her land currently zoned “Open Space Recreational” with an adjacent parcel zoned for “Residential” development. Voter-approved Measure X gave San Juan voters the right to decide whether Open Space can be re-zoned for development purposes. Thus the proposed developer, Shea Homes, and Ms. Irvine-Smith are requesting that the Council approve placing this issue before the voters in November.

We support the right of property owners to develop their property within what the law allows, but the Planning Commission has recommended that more information be provided and questions be answered before moving for a GPA and re-zone vote.

Several Planning Commissioners expressed concern about this deal being rushed to the ballot before issues have been addressed. Why the rush? The only reason we can see is to save the developer from having to pay for a special election. If the issue is put on the November General Election ballot, taxpayers pick up the associated costs which include paying our City Attorney to write an analysis and ballot label. The deadline is looming to qualify for the November ballot, so the developer wants to fast-track the planning process. But why shortchange the voters to save the developer money?

Some of the concerns raised by the Planning Commission include:

- The developer has not yet presented a formal development plan for consideration. Therefore, we don’t know the number of homes being proposed on the Open Space parcel. 28 - 35 seems to be the targeted range.

- How will the increased traffic load impact access to and from Ortega Highway? Will a traffic signal be required? If so, who will pay for it?

No traffic study has yet been conducted and no plan for access to the proposed Gated Community was presented.

- Will this Gated Community limit public access to the “new” Open Space, effectively privatizing it? What are the plans for public access, if any?

- What impacts will this Gated Community have on existing horse trails and the protected San Juan Creek?

- Who will maintain the setbacks along San Juan Creek as required by law? No agreement has been negotiated for landscaping and maintaining the setbacks.

- Residents in Mission Springs who bought their homes prior to development of The Oaks paid a premium for Open Space views with the expectation that their views would be preserved. The design features of the proposed homes are unknown. How will they impact the views of neighboring residences and their property values?

San Juan voters deserve to have this issue properly vetted before the Council gives the green light for the developer to use their considerable resources to persuade voters to approve their plan.

Please attend the Council meeting on Tuesday, July 17 to make your voice heard, or email the council at: cityclerk@sanjuancapistrano.org.

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