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The proposed community near San Juan Hills High School could hinder the district’s capacity issues at the school

By Brian Park

The Capistrano Unified School District is asking the San Juan Capistrano City Council to deny a proposal to build a 100-unit apartment complex near San Juan Hills High School.

CUSD trustees on Wednesday, January 8 unanimously approved a resolution opposing the project, known as the Rancho San Juan Apartments.

The developer, Mission Viejo-based Woodbridge Pacific Group, is proposing to build the community on 4.6 acres of a 9.7-acre parcel of land on the northwest corner of Vista Montana and La Pata Avenue. The complex would also include 26 affordable housing units, which would help the city meet its state-mandated quota for low-income housing.

School officials, nearby residents and parents of San Juan Hills students have long protested against the project, saying that additional traffic would exacerbate an already difficult commute. In August, the city’s Planning Commission recommended the City Council deny the developer’s request to rezone the land due to traffic concerns.

The council voted in December to continue consideration of the item after traffic consultants for the developer presented a plan to reconfigure lanes. The council is expected to make a final decision at its next meeting, January 21.

However, Trustee Jim Reardon, a San Juan Capistrano resident, said the issue was not about traffic but rather a “capacity problem.”

With the impending extension of La Pata Avenue, students from San Clemente’s Talega community would attend San Juan Hills. Students from Talega and Ladera Ranch also have priority access to the high school because taxpayers from those communities helped pay for the school through Community Finance Districts.

Board President John Alpay noted that students from San Juan Capistrano would then be forced to attend high school outside their city, including Capistrano Valley and San Clemente high schools.

“It seems kind of perverse to me that we’re going to Rancho Mission Viejo, Ladera and San Clemente students going to a high school in San Juan while you have students in San Juan going to a school in San Clemente or Mission Viejo,” Alpay said. “The City Council has a right to do what they want with property rights. They can rezone it. I don’t want to step on what’s their territory. But they should be aware and cognizant of the impact their actions will have on the residents that reside within their city boundaries.”

The district has also expressed interest in acquiring the land to build additional parking for the school and expand facilities onto existing parking to accommodate for more students.

“This is the last property,” Reardon said. “If it’s gone, (San Juan Hills High School) it’s land-locked.”

Trustees noted that rezoning the land would significantly raise the value of the property, making any potential land swap more difficult.

“We have one more meeting for the San Juan City Council to make a decision that will impact the cost of whatever happens, no matter what we decide to do, by a factor of 10,” Reardon said. “If that vote goes in (the developer’s) favor, it’s going to be very tough for the school district to even begin the discussion.”

Reardon and Alpay also addressed talk that the district lacked the funds to acquire the property. Alpay said the district has $1.9 million in the bank, collected from a Ladera Ranch CFD, that could be used should the board decide to buy the land.

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