The Case Against Aliso Ridge Mixed-use Development – Part 1
by Dale Tyler
The property located near the intersection of Jeronimo Road and Los Alisos Blvd. has been zoned commercial since long before the inception of the City of Mission Viejo. It remained zoned commercial in the Master Plan because of the perceived need for a balance of commercial uses to provide revenue and residential uses to provide housing. When the city road system and infrastructure were planned, a specific number (approximately 30,000) of dwelling units were to be constructed. Yet now, a developer – Steadfast – is coming forward with a plan to build 160-plus dwellings on 10.5 acres of this 23-acre parcel, with the remaining 13 acres being used for a Target retail store. Attempts by the same developer to convert the entire parcel to residential have been turned down repeatedly by the Mission Viejo Planning Commission and City Council over the last two years, so Steadfast has come up with another plan.
Over the years, the city has approved dwelling-unit increases that exceed the original limit, with corresponding increases in traffic problems and other impacts to the schools and parks. This is especially apparent in south Mission Viejo, where in 1992, 700-plus dwellings were approved to be constructed on land previously zoned commercial. Although more than 7,000 residents filed a referendum to overturn the zoning change, it was eventually defeated by the city by procedural means. The case was never tried on the merits, although one judge said he thought it would be likely that the residents would prevail.
The situation with Aliso Ridge closely parallels the situation 13 years ago in several respects. First, this property has always been commercial with the potential to generate revenue for the city, including sales tax. Second, increased peak-direction, peak-time traffic will adversely affect neighbors and other commuters. Third, not withstanding the inaccurate attendance estimates from the school district, the actual number of children generated by the proposed project will adversely impact local schools and parks. In addition to these clearly observable effects, the residents adjacent to the project in south Mission Viejo will tell you that the high-density nature of the development has resulted in more crime, including several shootings, and increased graffiti, mostly in and near the project.
The primary negative impacts of the residential portion of the Aliso Ridge project can be summed up as follows:
- Loss of commercial-zoned property that will provide Mission Viejo with sale tax revenue into the future.
- Increased peak-hour/peak-direction traffic that will hurt neighbors and commuters using the already very congested streets in the area.
- Potential damage to the Aliso Creek watershed due to residents of the new project using it for recreation. This area has no convenient local parks because it is primarily a commercial area, so residents would have few other choices to walk their dogs, etc.
- Increased burden on already overcrowded schools and parks. This is especially problematic because the proposed residential area is in the middle of a commercial zone.
- Increased requirement for police and other community services. The 160-plus dwellings will generate far more calls for service, especially for crimes to persons (assault, battery, spousal abuse) than a store, which will, at most, have a few shoplifters to be carted off to jail.
Of all of the negative impacts, the one that will have the worst long-term effect is that of converting property zoned from commercial to residential uses. In general, commercial uses, especially retail, provide income to the city. Commercial uses also provide jobs, some of which could be filled by Mission Viejo residents. This would reduce traffic on the freeways and allow people to live and work in Mission Viejo. On the other hand, residential uses, in general, cost the city money. While property taxes will be higher with residential uses, this extra income to the city is swamped by the increases in costs for roads, schools, police and parks that the new residents will demand and the loss of sales-tax income to the city that commercial uses could provide.
Assuming a 120,000-square-foot retail use on 10.5 acres (Target is proposing 150,000 sq. ft. on 13 acres next door on the same parcel) and using $400/sq.ft./year (average value for large retail home goods stores), we see that the store will generate $3.72 million in sales tax per year. Mission Viejo’s share would be $480,000 per year from this one store. This is the kind of money our city needs to pay for repairs and replacement of our roads, parks and such other city facilities as the community center. Over the next decade, this would amount to nearly $5 million dollars.
To conclude, why should the city give the developer, Steadfast, a gift with no return by allowing them to pack more than 160 dwellings into an area that could instead be used for valuable retail space? The citizens of Mission Viejo owe Steadfast nothing. Some may say that the property is now empty and would be more productive with any use. However, that is incorrect reasoning. Housing costs us increased traffic and crowded schools, not to mention a net loss to the city treasury. Even empty land with a potential for commercial is better than that. However, Target has said they think this property has so much promise that they are building a 150,000-square-foot store on the same property. Why can’t the rest of the property hold another retail store? I’ll bet it can.