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By Brian Park

The San Juan Capistrano Planning Commission on Tuesday voted to continue plans to build a new 100-unit apartment complex near San Juan Hills High School after the applicant for the project made a surprise proposal to pay for a new traffic signal to assuage traffic concerns.

Phil Schwartze, a representative for Rancho San Juan Development, said the developer would be willing to foot the cost of the signal, after residents and city staff voiced their concern about traffic safety and congestion near the school.

“We have always thought that traffic signals should be there,” Schwartze said. “The applicant is agreeable to install a signalized intersection at that location. We’d be happy to that condition.”

The Rancho San Juan apartment complex would be built on a 4.6-acre property on the northern corner of Vista Montana and La Pata Avenue. Of the 100 apartments, 26 of them would be designated as affordable housing. The proposed signal would be located at a new entrance point into the complex.

Clark Hampton, deputy superintendent of the Capistrano Unified School District, attended the meeting and asked the commission to carefully consider the impact of the development on school safety.

“The district still has significant concerns over the traffic impacts, particularly those arising during the morning commute,” Hampton said. “If the city is going to allow this type of development at this specific location, it should make sure it’s done right.”

Alan Oswald, the city’s traffic engineer, said since it was a future development, the city could not warrant for a signal. But, he said, in visiting the area himself, traffic proved difficult. He asked the applicant to consider the new signal be coordinated with the existing signal on La Pata.

“I’ve been out there once and I kind of swore to myself that I wouldn’t do it again,” Oswald said.

Commissioner Roy Nunn said although he’d like to see the project advance, it was only common sense that traffic would be impacted in the area.

Jim Reardon, a CUSD trustee, spoke to the commission as a resident. He asked that they hold off on the decision because there have been informal discussions to expand the school and that the proposed area for the complex was the only viable site.

“This is the last piece of property around San Juan Hills High School that has yet to be developed or is developable,” Reardon said. “It’s the only opportunity for the school district to expand.”

The commission will reconsider the item on July 23, following further staff review.

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