The Planning Commission votes 2-1 against Spieker Development’s Laguna Glen project

A capacity crowd filled City Hall for Tuesday's Planning Commission meeting to discuss the proposed Laguna Glen retirement community. Photo: Brian Park
A capacity crowd filled City Hall for Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting to discuss the proposed Laguna Glen retirement community. Photo: Brian Park

By Brian Park

A developer proposing to build a retirement community on one of San Juan Capistrano’s last remaining agricultural properties will have to seek approval from the City Council without the Planning Commission’s favor.

In front of a packed audience at City Hall Tuesday night, the commission voted 2-1 to reject an environmental impact report for Spieker Senior Development’s Laguna Glen project. Although the study found that the project would have little to no impact on the surrounding area, Commissioners Sheldon Cohen and Roy Nunn didn’t buy it.

Commissioner Ian Gardiner supported the project. Commissioner Tim Neely, who served on an ad hoc committee with Nunn to work with the developer on design, was absent. Commissioner Evan Chaffee recused himself because of his residence nearby the proposed project site.

Spieker proposes to build a 407-unit senior community on a 35-acre property, located at 32382 Del Obispo Street, currently serving as the distribution site for Armstrong Garden Center. The project also includes a health care center with 39 assisted care units, 21 memory-support care units and 41 nursing-care rooms. Per a development agreement, Spieker would also build a public aquatic center, including a junior Olympic pool, toddler pool, a shower and locker facility and a small fitness center.

The commission also voted 2-1 to recommend against rezoning the land, which is currently designed for agricultural business. The land is owned by the Vermeulen family, whose farming history in San Juan Capistrano spans 65 years.

Critics of the project spoke out against the zoning change, asking the commission to preserve the area’s farming heritage and charm. Developer Troy Bourne and former mayor Phil Schwartze, who is representing the Vermeulens, said the land was no longer viable for agricultural use.

Bourne, who displayed aerial photos showing how surrounding farm land had dramatically changed to residential, said it wouldn’t be fair to deny the Vermeulens, who he said had fought longer and harder for San Juan Capistrano’s farming heritage.

“It’s reasonable to say no family has done more,” Bourne said.

Schwartze said the Vermeulens had also considered their land for commercial, residential and industrial development but ultimately chose to work with Spieker because they felt a retirement community had the lowest impact on nearby schools and public facilities.

Nunn said San Juan Capistrano was no longer a village but a small town, but he and Cohen both said the commission had to uphold the city’s General Plan, which aims to preserve a rural character. Cohen criticized the density of the project. He also questioned the push to develop while the state was in the midst of an historic drought.

“I’m concerned about anything at this point in time with the drought,” Cohen said. “I think we all have to open our eyes to what lies ahead. I’m not suggesting a moratorium on building.

City staff noted that once the community had reached 75 percent occupancy, they would reassess its impact on traffic and water.

State law requires proposed retirement communities offering medical services to determine demand before moving forward with development. Bourne said within the first 90 days of advertising for the project, Spieker had received 250 refundable deposits to secure a place at Laguna Glen.

Some of those potential residents came dressed in blue T-shirts that read “I Heart SJC.” They were met by critics wearing yellow T-shirts and holding banners against the project.

The discussion was continued from last Tuesday because of problems with the chambers’ audio/visual system. The meeting began around 20 minutes behind schedule after the Orange County Fire Authority said the chamber was filled beyond capacity. Many were ushered to the Police Services office nearby to watch the meeting, while others stood within earshot of the chamber, in the lobby and front entrance.

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comments (5)

  • The Planning Commission made the appropriate recommendation. Now it’s up to the City Council.

  • Please don’t vote for Jan Siegel for City Council. Jan wants to preserve anything in SJC that is old because it reflects the City history. The project doesn’t even need a useful function such as a museum to stimulate her passion.

    However, Jan supports having the last open agricultural land at Armstrong’s nursery built over with high density housing. Jan needs to know that future generations with not be able to enjoy their historical open space because of short sighted visions. Instead our children will recall that someone forgot tomorrows history for them and their children.

    Please don’t vote for Jan Siegel

    • Though I understand your concerns, I am afraid that you have completely misrepresented the proposed project as well as the land upon which it is being built. You represented the proposed project site as “historical open space.” It is NOT open space. It is NOT farm land. It is NOT even agricultural land. It is zoned for Agribusiness which means that it can be used to store potted plants or farm equipment as it has been used for, or it can be used for breeding/butchering rabbits, breeding/butchering chickens, etc. Whether we like it or not, Armstrong is moving their distribution center and the land is going to be used for something else. You are not going to find a reasonable lower impact to the community than the proposed retirement community. What other type of project could be thought of that is profitable, stimulates local businesses (by adding 400 residents who will spend money at local restaurants and stores), and doesn’t have major impact on the traffic (many do not drive, the ones that do carpool and even then they are not on the road during peak traffic hours).
      Would it be great to leave everything the same forever? Sure that would be nice. But unless you moved to San Juan with Father Junipero Serra, the house you live in used to be farmland or “open space” land at one point too.

      • Kevin, with all due respect, I don’t think you understand the nature of the proposed project. I visited their “sister” project in northern CA recently, had dinner in the dining room with friends of many years. A big part of their program is providing meals, 2/day guaranteed with their monthly fees. So your assumption that these folks would frequent local restaurants is bogus. Also, there are many other uses for the property under the current zoning. Organic hydropontic gardening is just one, utilizing the existing greenhouses. But you have totally missed the main objections: Traffic and water.

        As for Jan Siegel, I have not seen her voice any opinion on this project. She does object to the project on Ortega next to the Mission, with good reasons. It would not enhance the entry statement to the community.

  • There are several candidates for City Council in the up-coming election. There are also 3 major projects facing City Council action in order to move forward; ALL of them have MAJOR flaws and potentially fatal flaws. Only vote for the candidates who will honor problems that affect all who live in San Juan…..WATER, TRAFFIC management, and OVER-DEVELOPMENT.

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