By Jim Shilander
The project manager for Olen Development Corporation’s proposed three-story mixed-use development on El Camino Real, next to the old City Hall, said the company has abandoned the project, citing “the city’s broken and arduous discretionary approval process.”
Mark Zonarich said in an email Thursday that the company decided to abandon the project officially on Wednesday after three years of work. He noted that the project had met or exceeded all of the city’s ordinances and guidelines.
“It is extremely disappointing that the citizens of San Clemente have lost out on an incredible project in our downtown,” Zonarich said. “As a professional planner, I must admit that this process has been extraordinarily disheartening and excessively laborious. I have worked for municipalities across the country as a consultant and never have I experienced such blatant opposition when a project has complied with and exceeded the ordinances as much as ours did. Typically, a city would ‘roll out the red carpet’ and fast-track projects in instances such as this, not throw-up roadblocks at every turn.”
City Councilman Jim Evert lamented the fate of the project.
“It’s a shame we’ve got ourselves in a position like this,” Evert said. “I think it was a great project.”
Zonarich stated that the company now plans to simply “give our existing property a “facelift” and keep the large, surface parking lot on El Camino Real.”
“As a developer, what was most frustrating about the situation is the fact that one should be able to receive a relative degree of certainty and predictability if you follow a municipalities ordinances and guidelines,” Zonarish wrote. “Otherwise, why have them? It is also unfortunate that the opposition used such misleading tactics to spurn support for an unfounded three-story ban, but I know there has been a long history of that in San Clemente.”
Georgette Korsen, the former president of the San Clemente Historical Society, which opposed the project, said she felt that the failure of the project was an example of what happens when “you go against the will of the people.”
“We’re scrappy and we know what we have,” Korsen said of the people of San Clemente. “And we protect it. That’s what really happened here.”
The True North survey done a few years ago, which stated that the city’s citizens valued the areas small town feel and village character, had shown that people had wanted to keep things small, Korsen said. The consequences of a three-story development in downtown were too great to risk, he said, despite the projects positive merits.
“It was indeed a beautiful project,” Korsen said. “And I told them that. But it was too big. And it would set in motion the potential for the whole downtown to be like that. It would have destroyed what we value.”