By Matt Gaffney, San Juan Capistrano
In 1990, San Juan Capistrano voters approved Measure D, which uses our tax money to purchase private properties within the city and convert them to public use, thereby saving them from possible commercial development. Through this measure, our city has acquired undeveloped land that preserves our agricultural heritage (Kinoshita Farm), provides for additional recreational uses (Sports Park), extends equestrian trails (Northwest Open Space), and meets other community needs (Community Center/Boys & Girls Club).
The Vermeulen family’s property on Del Obispo Street was evaluated for acquisition in 1990 and 2008, but the city decided to purchase other properties that better met its objectives. The Vermeulens have now proposed to develop a portion of their property as an upscale retirement community. Hundreds of local seniors have expressed interest and environmental and traffic students commissioned by the city show the proposed project to be low impact. The Vermeulens intend to continue to own and operate their neighborhood grocery and garden center next door.
Over the next few months, the Planning Commission and the City Council will evaluate and vote on the merits of the proposed project, but one thing is already certain. You will hear outcries such as, “Preserve our open space” and “Save our farms,” which are both inaccurate and unfair. The Vermeulen property is not, and has never been “open space” and it has not been a “farm” for decades. There is nothing planted on the largely-asphalt site that is now used as a distribution center for potted plants.
It is also decidedly not “ours.” It belongs to the family who purchased it and worked it for the past half century. We had the opportunity to buy it and decided not to. We now need to honor our decision, respect the family’s property rights and allow them to develop their property in a reasonable way.