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Vol.3, Issue 50, December 11-17, 2008

THE LATEST: Owners of a proposed development on El Camino Real on the southern end of San Clemente are now hoping for a thumbs up from City Council following a denial of their plan by the city’s Planning Commission last week. The Village Courtyard project, located at 911 S. El Camino Real, had received approvals from all other city agencies leading up to their planning commission meetings before being denied in a 4-2-1 vote.

The proposed 70,000-square-foot project includes a doubling of the existing Ralphs grocery store to 40,000 square feet as well as space for retail and restaurants on the top floor. It is expected that City Council will review the proposal in January. “It seems the primary concern by the dissenting side of Planning Commission revolves around this underground parking and retail at street level in addition to the Ralphs,’ said Rick Skillman, one of the project owners. “It’s somewhat viewed as a neighborhood shopping center. We, on the other hand, view it as a community shopping center and indeed are trying to serve 30,000 people-not the first two blocks surrounding the shopping center. In doing so, parking is a priority. Access to the grocery store is a priority. Access by all members of the community is a priority.’

The current plans for the three-story complex do not include underground parking, which Skillman says is not an option because of a number of factors including financial and geographical. Planning Commission Chairman Michael Kaupp said that underground parking and the street level retail issues are just part of the reason why he voted along with Julia Darden, Mitchell Thompson and Brenda Miller to deny it. Nesa Anderson and Lew Avera voted in favor of the project while Cynthia Baker abstained. During the hearing last week, members of Skillman’s ownership team outlined how they felt the project meshed in lockstep with the city’s visioning outline for this part of town, but several commission members weren’t swayed.

“The massing seemed to be a major issue along with the lack of street engagement,’ said Kaupp, who has served on the Planning Commission for nine years. “In all my years this has been one of the most difficult projects to review because I’m acutely aware of how much the community needs and wants a larger grocery store in that part of town.’

WHAT’S NEXT: Skillman said he and his group will take all of the input and feedback from the Planning Commission and determine what elements can be included in reshaping the proposal. In the meantime, he remains confident that the support he’s received from the community-including more than 200 cards of support people have filled out in the past nine days-is representative of the community’s need for a new grocery store to serve that part of town.

“We need it,’ said Don Mork, 81, who walked into the on-site viewing room to look at the project simulation model and artist renderings of how the project would look once completed. “I’ve lived here 37 years. We’re a pretty big city now, and this whole area south of here needs improving.’

FIND OUT MORE: Check out the project model at 911 S. El Camino Real. Call 949.498.0425 for times or appointment.

-Norb Garrett

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