South OC city puts kibosh on mixed-use housing plans

234-unit mixed-use development anchored by Whole Foods drew fierce opposition from neighbors

A photo illustration of the recently nixed mixed-use complex at 27001 La Paz Road in Mission Viejo (ValueRock Realty, iStock)
A photo illustration of the recently nixed mixed-use complex at 27001 La Paz Road in Mission Viejo (ValueRock Realty, iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)

The South Orange County suburb of Mission Viejo has said no to a mixed-used development, drawing a line in the sand against residential complexes that add shops and restaurants.

Public officials in the master-planned city of Spanish-tiled homes and businesses voted to deny a developer’s request for a new mixed-use zone that would allow it to replace an aging strip mall with a five-story apartment complex built above a Whole Foods Market, the Orange County Register reported.

(Source: ValueRock Realty)

(Source: ValueRock Realty)

Landowner and developer ValueRock Realty Partners, based in Irvine, had hoped to redevelop the Garden Plaza at 27001 La Paz Rd. into a 234-unit complex anchored by Whole Foods and other retail shops. It bought the 5.2-acre property in 2015 for $13.3 million in an all-cash deal.

The developers said the project was necessary to address a local housing crisis and help young families find local, affordable housing options. They also say it will bolster tax revenue and increase job opportunities.

But after strong neighborhood opposition, the city’s Planning Commission voted against the proposed change last month, and the City Council followed suit.

Thirteen sites were identified in 2015 for future mixed-use development across Mission Viejo, including the proposed site for Garden Plaza. But city staff argued that the addition of mixed-use zoning to the city’s code could potentially open the door for similar applications across the city, according to the Voice of OC.

“We are and should be recognizably Mission Viejo,” planning commissioner Andrew Quinio said at the planning meeting, where the commission said the proposed change to the city’s code didn’t fit “the overall character of this city.”.

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City Attorney Bill Curley told council members that, without their approval of the request for a new zoning district, the mixed-use project would be “dead.”

The 68,000-square-foot development proposal had drawn heavy fire from residents concerned about an increase in traffic, noise and parking problems.

Carlos Pianelli, a Mission Viejo resident, launched a “Stop The Monster” campaign to demonstrate against the project and collect 6,000 signatures for a petition against mixed-use developments in Mission Viejo.

He said allowing a mixed-use zone change could alter what many residents view as a small town feel in a community of 94,000 residents.

“We are going to canvas outside the district so more people can hear about this,” Pianelli said after the Planning Commission decision. “We want them to know this can happen at [their] location too if you agree to the mixed zoning.”

Mission Viejo, incorporated in 1988, is considered one of the largest master-planned communities ever built under a single project in the U.S, with about 35,000 homes. It was developed by Rancho Mission Viejo, land owned by the O’Neil family in an operation currently headed by Tony Moiso. Rancho Mission Viejo was led at the time by Donald Bren, who later became chairman and owner of the Irvine Company.

The decision to stymie mixed-use in Mission Viejo could present a challenge to its state-mandated housing goal, also known as the housing element. By the end of the decade, the OC city must build 2,217 homes, including 675 affordable homes for very-low and low-income residents, according to a city report.

[Orange County Register, Voice of OC] – Dana Bartholomew

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