The Case Against Aliso Ridge Mixed-use Development – Part 2
by Dale Tyler
The Mission Viejo Planning/Transportation Commission held the first public hearing on the Aliso Ridge Mixed Use project on Dec. 12, 2005. While there was public testimony for and against the project, as well as the presentation of the developer putting the project in the best light, the commissioner-discussion phase of the hearing did not occur. During this hearing, it became clear that those favoring the project had not presented any clear reasons why this project should be approved, other than making money for Steadfast.
This project, as proposed, will build 144 townhouses on land that has always been zoned commercial. Although I support the right of land owners to develop their property in any way they choose, that right is not absolute. Every property owner has to abide by the land uses that are described in the zoning for the piece of property.
Mission Viejo was built as a master-planned community. This means that the zoning for every parcel of land in the city was designated in advance to coordinate the various uses needed to create a successful city. The master-planned nature of the city means there is no uncertainty about what will be built on the vacant land next door. A buyer of a house could be assured that housing of only a certain density could be built next door. There would be no apartments built in single-family neighborhoods.
The same certainty applies to commercial property. Just as people in single-family houses want similar houses next door, businesses do not usually want houses nearby, because of the problems with sensitivity of residences to noise and extra lighting often needed by businesses. Mission Viejo's master plan set aside only 7 percent of the total acreage for commercial uses. The planners realized that that 7 percent would pay much of the taxes the city would need to maintain the roads, parks and other city facilities over the coming years.
Because of the nature of our master-planned city, we should only rezone property under very compelling circumstances. For example, if a piece of property zoned for houses was found to be at risk for a landslide, perhaps it could be rezoned as a park. But to rezone a commercial property that could earn the city $5 million in sales taxes over the next 10 years into housing that will cost the city money every year is irresponsible. The only reason that is being given for building houses is that the city needs more housing and especially “affordable” housing. Yet, there are other ways to get affordable housing, and only 144 new units will make no difference in the overall demand anyway. So, why build houses? Because a greedy developer will make more money from building houses, and they think their needs are more important than our zoning codes. The developer has a right to ask for the zoning change. The city has a right not to approve the change, and it should not do so.
Another topic that came up at the Dec. 12 hearing involved parking in the townhouse part of the project. Several people from townhouse/condo developments in Mission Viejo presented evidence that the city's standard for parking is completely inadequate. The city requires two spaces per unit in enclosed parking, plus one visitor space for every three units. In practice, this is not enough because people have more cars than that, and they often use part of their garages for storage. Even the city recognizes the parking problems in the nearby developments, and it is having to undertake very expensive measures to clean the streets, since people park there almost continuously because all of the spaces inside their developments are full.
Yet, despite the concrete evidence presented, the supposedly objective traffic consultant paid by Steadfast says, “One space per bedroom is adequate.” I expect more from a professional engineering firm than to try and justify a clearly inadequate standard. This is same consultant who can't understand the concept of peak-direction/peak hour traffic flow and the clear advantage of commercial developments during rush hours. They also are proposing putting in a traffic light that will make entry and exit from the existing shopping area at the southeast corner of Los Alisos and Jeronimo to be virtually impossible, as highlighted by the questions asked by Commissioner Brad Morton. The city needs to find an unbiased traffic engineering company that will figure out what the real impacts of the project will be.
The residential component of the Aliso Ridge project is clearly inappropriate for the site, the proposed residents and for the city as a whole. The Planning Commission should reject this project until the developer comes back with a purely commercial project in full compliance with existing zoning rules.