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By C. Jayden Smith

Years after the former MemorialCare hospital at 654 Camino de Los Mares in San Clemente closed, there is traction towards the site being used once again, this time as senior housing.

The Design Review Subcommittee met Wednesday, July 27, to discuss a development proposal for the structure, following an initial meeting in May.

Hunsaker & Associates Irvine, the project applicant, requested to demolish the vacant building and construct a mixed-use facility to house 250 rental senior residential units and a 7,500-square-foot medical office.

If approved, the property would be under a commercial designation, as opposed to the current Regional Medical Facility (RMF1) zoning district and General Plan designation in which it currently sits.

Map of the former MemorialCare hospital site, which could be used for a proposed senior housing development. Graphic Courtesy of City of San Clemente

The DRSC previously reviewed the project on May 25 and provided numerous comments with which both the committee and the applicants will use to further the project’s discussions.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Assistant to the City Manager Jennifer Savage noted that the project became more consistent with the General Plan after the applicants made significant changes to the design.

Ted Frattone, the project manager of entitlements and planning with Hunsaker was present at the meeting, in addition to Bob Kim, the consulting project manager for MemorialCare, and lead architect Kevin Buchta, from TCA Architects.

The elevations suggest the medical office will be two stories tall, and the residential buildings three to four stories.

Frattone presented the adjustments Hunsaker and the design team made, including the addition of covered balconies and patios to break up the tall, lengthy structure that would exist along Camino de Los Mares if the project were to be approved by the city. He also pointed out the carports that would start just in front of the main buildings, with architecture similar to the buildings themselves, and have solar panels above them along the sides.

Elevations rendering of the proposed senior residential buildings on the former MemorialCare hospital site as viewed from Camino de Los Mares. Graphic Courtesy of City of San Clemente

The building elevations themselves comply with the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture requirement of San Clemente by having whitewashed stucco facades, red clay roof tiles, fragmented sections of the surface to achieve articulated massing, and textured roof and plate heights, as well as textured patio designs.

Another element the DRSC prioritized was setting back parts of the structure away from the street. The applicants removed tower elements that would have been near the center courtyard, and moved the fourth story of a residential building back 120 feet from Camino de Los Mares.

DRSC member Steven Camp said the design and engineering team had made strides from the May meeting, in that they had started to give the building identity in terms of hierarchical massing, and breaking up the sections as they extended out from the main structure in the middle. However, he felt the project had more to accomplish.

“I think it needs to be stepping from maybe a two-level to three, and maybe up to four as you get back into the center,” said Camp. “…But I do think you guys have made a lot of progress.”

His colleague, Barton Crandell, agreed the design could look less uniform all the way across, not only with the massing, but by changing the shapes of the windows and other elements. Even though he could only see the elevation digitally, Crandell still thought the design was two-dimensional.

The committee members also thought it would be difficult for the plan to meet the city’s architecture standards without reducing the number of apartments from 250.

Buchta acknowledged that they needed to review their design and pop out and recess the various elements after the initial meeting with the DRSC, but after hearing the members’ comments Wednesday, he believes there are things the team can do to create a more residential feel among the looming structure.

Project manager Bob Kim confirmed that the committee was looking for asymmetric balance, and undulation along the roof lines in which a rhythm could be seen.

Providing a pedestrian-friendly environment was a highlight of the previous meeting, and Hunsaker & Associates included several changes in the staff report to address the space as a whole, in addition to the landscaping. The project lists a pedestrian paseo, or promenade, between the residential buildings, an entry plaza with benches, a water feature and a trellis.

From the outside, passersby will be able to see the ocean through the paseo entrance while walking on an expanded 10-foot sidewalk amongst existing and new trees along the street. To further “soften” the buildings’ appearance, layered landscaping is pictured next to the elevations.

Another point of conversation on Wednesday was the landmark that signaled where the pedestrian paseo would be located. DRSC member Scott McKhann pointed out that trees in the middle of the area blocked the view of the ocean from the sidewalk.

“To me, that visual corridor is really important,” McKhann said.

Determining how to blend the monument’s visual element while demarcating the private space will be apart of the design team’s challenge as they work to earn the Planning Commission’s eventual approval.

As proposed, the project meets most of the Development Standards required within the city’s CC4 zoning and Senior Housing Development Standards, except for exceeding the floor area ratio and height limitations.

The building would have a ratio of 0.81, in terms of the total gross floor area divided by the lot area of 6.16 acres, which is more than the 0.5 listed in the zoning ordinance. In addition, the proposed height of up to 59 feet, 7 inches, exceeds the roof limitation of 45 feet.

Regarding the General Plan and Design Guidelines, the project remains consistent with the applicable policies, such as well-designed multi-family residential uses, crime prevention through environmental design and lighting, and the preservation of natural features.

Within the next month, the applicants will look to submit another package of the designs to the planning commission for approval, according to Frattone.

The Design Review Subcommittee will next meet on Aug. 10.

C. Jayden Smith

C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.

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