By C. Jayden Smith
A proposed senior living development and medical office on the site of San Clemente’s shuttered hospital is not being recommended to the City Council for approval.
In a unanimous decision, the Planning Commission on Wednesday night, Oct. 5, denied to formally recommend that the City Council approve MemorialCare’s application to construct a 250-unit senior housing facility and a 7,500-square-foot medical office on its vacant hospital site on Camino de los Mares.
MemorialCare had sought the Planning Commission’s recommendation for the council to approve the master project, as well additional applications for amendments to the General Plan and zoning, and architectural and conditional use permits.
Following the commission’s vote on Wednesday night, MemorialCare Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer Tom Leary said that while the medical group is disappointed with the commission’s vote, his team appreciated the consideration and would process the feedback before taking the next step.
The project though will now be in the City Council’s hands. It’s expected to consider the project at its next meeting on Oct. 18.
“We remain committed to taking this to the council because we think it’s the right thing to do for the community, and the sooner, the better,” Leary said.
As part of the plan, MemorialCare looks to divide the lot in two, with one side designated for the two-story medical office, and the other to contain the four-story residential building. The project plans also included 249 covered spaces reserved for one unit each, two spaces for an onsite apartment manager’s unit, 50 spaces for guests, and 38 spaces for medical office parking.
According to the details listed in the city’s agenda report, 61 spaces, including all office parking, would be part of a shared agreement across the two lots if the project was approved.
For the senior living facility, at least 8% of the units are intended for very-low-income households.
MemorialCare has asked the city for certain waivers and concessions on development standards—allowed under California’s Density Bonus Law when applicants set aside units for affordable housing.
If the city determined MemorialCare made a request for concessions and provided adequate information, the project could exceed standards for its height, number of stories, elevator shaft height, floor area ratio, parking and private open space balconies.
The concession and waivers would allow for a more-than-51-foot height at maximum, with four stories comprising 55% of the two residential buildings’ combined structure, and 58% of the average roofs’ height rising near or above the 45-foot limit.
Additionally, the elevator shaft height would rise nine inches above the limit; the 0.89 floor area ratio would allow for the building to cover more lot space; and the project would not provide 50 guest spaces outside of a shared agreement.
Despite the density bonus requests, which the city could not do much to contest, Commissioners Barton Crandell and Karen Prescott-Loeffler supported most of the findings for the applications that were required for the project’s approval.
However, the two said they could not support approving an architectural permit because of the number of stories, along with Commissioner Gary McCaughan, who posed that the lack of sufficient parking on-site could be detrimental to public health.
“Can we really say the ‘design of the subdivision or the type of improvements’ is not likely to cause serios public health problems?” McCaughan asked, referring to the tentative parcel map findings. “People (will be) walking across the street or making multiple passes through the parking lot to find a spot or (find their doctor for an appointment).”
Echoing previous comments from Crandell, Planning Chair Scott McKhann said that he was generally supportive of the project, but recommended MemorialCare’s design team include flexibility in terms of whether parking spots would be reserved for differing groups.
Instead of voting on each of MemorialCare’s application individually, the commission, having agreed that it didn’t desire to move the project forward, voted to deny the motion altogether. Chair Pro Tem Steven Camp, Vice Chair Cameron Cosgrove, and Commissioner Brent Davis were absent from Wednesday’s meeting.
McKhann initially favored addressing the applications one-by-one, but after hearing Leary say MemorialCare preferred to keep working its way up to the council, the up-and-down vote was eventually held.
Leary also responded to McCaughan’s comment that McCaughan didn’t want to spend time on the applications if MemorialCare would go straight to the council regardless, saying that his team did respect the commissioners’ opinions and that his team had been listening throughout the process.
Prescott-Loeffler then said the commission had been clear about its preferences, citing previous concerns regarding parking, private outdoor space for residents, and a desire to have a larger and wider range of affordable housing within the residential facility.
“I don’t want to stand in your way of going right to City Council, that’s your right to do (so),” she said. “I think our opinions—and there’s some very professional planners here—should be taken into consideration.”
Other recommendations included swapping trees for low shrubs on the property to maintain views out to the ocean, making sure each unit had private outdoor space, and considering including low- and moderate-income renters in addition to very low-income tenants.
Regarding a proposed development agreement that would give MemorialCare 20 years to develop the project and require an existing mix of affordable units for at least 40 years—which the commission did not vote on—McKhann said he was not supportive.
“Normally, the city gets a significant quid pro quo in exchange for extending out development rights for two decades,” said McKhann. “I don’t see what we’re getting back for that.”
The team would address concerns where they saw fit, Leary added, but also stand firm in cases where they felt they had met state requirements. He praised the questions and “real-world perspectives” the commissioners gave, saying MemorialCare had an obligation to factor those sentiments into improving the project.
Continuing to address the organization’s persistence in bringing the approximately $84 million project in front of the council, Richele Steele, MemorialCare vice president of Communications and Public Relations, emailed additional comment to San Clemente Times.
“With the significant demand for building supplies being what they are, any delay could add significant cost to this project as we continue to see inflation around construction, and we want to ensure that this project is viable for all parties, including future residents,” Steele wrote.
During MemorialCare’s initial presentation to open the meeting, Leary talked about how city officials approached the organization as the city would soon designate the former hospital site as a candidate for a mixed-income housing project in October 2021.
It was a “great idea,” he recalled, and MemorialCare soon landed on the concept for the project in front of the commission.
Company staff and the design team have since worked with the city, engaged with community residents through various forums, and received feedback from entities such as the San Clemente Affordable Housing Coalition on designing a functional development, Leary said.
“Our goal was never to come up with the largest project that we could build, or the cheapest,” he said. “Rather, we strived to create an attractive community with stylish architecture that blends with neighboring buildings, minimizes impacts on adjacent neighborhoods, and maintains that ‘Spanish Village by the Sea’ feel.”
MemorialCare officials and consultants walked the commission and the audience through a presentation and detailed how the project was consistent with or lower than nearby buildings. They also showed Google Earth simulations that displayed minimal impacts on residential views, and that concerning the traffic analysis, shared parking arrangements were common and peak parking demand for each use would differ.
A consultant with TCA Architects addressed resident concerns about wanting MemorialCare to put up story poles indicating the project’s height.
“Using the 3D technology, we applied that concept to our site,” Tim Mustard of the architectural firm said. “Due to the size and complexity of the roof forms that we’re proposing, story polls just aren’t practical.”
Crandell asked MemorialCare to consider increasing the number of affordable units from 8%. Leary responded that there would be economic issues with doing so and maintaining the current total of 250 units, for which research previously indicated there would be parties interested in taking on the project.
“(It’s) not from the standpoint of profitability, it’s a question of viability for a joint venture partner or developer,” said Leary. “Can they recover their investment on that? … We’re comfortable with the numbers that we’ve put in, we’ve done some basic analysis of it.”
Crandell and McKhann stressed that they wanted to see more affordable units and room for varying levels of income to benefit seniors.
“Commissioner Crandell’s absolutely right, there’s going to be people that aren’t available to afford the market rent, but they’re not going to qualify for the very-low (income),” McKhann said. “Maybe they qualify for low or medium or some other category. We’d love to have (those classes) too, as options.”
During the public comment period, there was a general split of opinions on the project. Those in favor cheered the addition of senior housing within San Clemente, citing how friends and family had to move away because of the cost. There was also support from the San Clemente Affordable Housing Coalition and the Orange County Business Council.
Commenters who opposed the project as designed included Sea Pointe Estates residents, who disputed MemorialCare’s claims that their ocean views wouldn’t be greatly impacted or called into question the amount of time it took for the project to reach the Planning Commission.
Leary said afterwards that the filing process began months ago, and that the company had been proactive and transparent with the community.
“I understand that this type of presentation and technology may be new, but it’s becoming more and more commonplace,” he said of the renderings MemorialCare presented. “A lot of jurisdictions up and down the state require exactly this type of presentation as opposed to story poles. In our view, we’ve gone above and beyond.”
MemorialCare anticipates presenting its project to the San Clemente City Council on Oct. 18, according to Leary.
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.