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By Brian Park
The owner of an unfinished housing development was given 30 more months to prepare the land for sale Tuesday but the San Juan Capistrano City Council asked that stockpiled dirt on the property, which has long laid fallow, be cleaned up.
Nearby residents of the Pacifica San Juan development have complained about mounds of dirt on a 9-acre site off Camino Las Ramblas.
“We were told this was only temporary … Temporary has been many dusty years now,” wrote resident Bree Gallery in a letter to the city. “This lot affects not only me but all my neighbors. It is the only way into our neighborhood. We want to protect our views, property values and public safety.”
The land, part of a larger 292-acre site, was acquired by Lehman Bros. in 2012, after the developer, SunCal, declared bankruptcy in 2008. Between 2004 and 2008, only 97 of the approved 416 homes were built. Lehman Bros., which also went bankrupt in 2008, now plans on selling the project to another developer.
Starting in the early 2000s, dirt was added to the land to compact the underlying soil, but due to the bankruptcies, the site was left unmonitored. Charlie View, the city’s development services director, said employing the tactic over such a large area was “not common but not exceptional” and that there was no definite date for when grading would begin.
Lisa Gordon, a representative for Lehman Bros., said the company resumed testing three months ago to measure the progress of soil compaction, the results of which could be available within a month.
The original 10-year development agreement, which called for 350 homes, was approved in 1992 and extended for a three-year period in 2002. A year later, the City Council amended plans to build 66 more homes. In 2004, the agreement was extended again, this time to July 16, 2014, because the developer needed more time to build public improvements, including new and reconstructed traffic signals at the nearby northbound Interstate 5 ramps and at the intersection of La Novia Avenue and Valle Road.
Extending the agreement once more, to January 2017, allows Lehman Bros. to complete those enhancements, but the City Council stressed the need to improve upkeep of the land.
“For 10 years, the people who live in that neighborhood … have been looking at construction fencing, weeds. They’ve been looking at temporary power poles that are not being utilized for all these years,” Councilman John Taylor said. “If I lived there, I’d be pretty irritated and I know some people are.”
Homeowners and nearby residents, who did not speak Tuesday but did at a March 11 Planning Commission meeting, said they were told the site would be developed as a future school or park, which the land is currently zoned for.
The Capistrano Unified School District has an option to buy the land, which is valued at $8.5 million, according to Gordon, but district officials have said there are no immediate plans to do so.
Mayor Sam Allevato expressed interest in the city acquiring the land to build a park, if the school district does not exercise their option.
“It’s something the neighbors want. It’s something that would clean up that site quite rapidly,” Allevato said. “And it’s something that maybe we should’ve asked for in 2004, when we gave them the maximum number of units.”
City Attorney Hans Van Ligten said the city would have to engage in a three-way negotiation with Lehman Bros. and CUSD, if the school district still had an option.