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San Clemente Weighing Merits of Marblehead Development

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

City officials in San Clemente are bracing for a special City Council meeting later this month to decide the fate of one of the county’s last undeveloped oceanfront properties: Marblehead Coastal.

The 250-acre development, proposed by Irvine-based Lusk Holding Co., has created a debate among residents over whether the city’s need for sales tax revenue and other benefits outweighs feelings of nostalgia for founder Ole Hanson’s vision of a quiet little “Spanish Village by the Sea.”

“If this [development] goes in, things are going to change. It’s going to be a different city,” said Diana Christinson, who in March organized a group of residents under the name San Clemente Citizens for Responsible Development.

The development plan, which was approved by the Planning Commission on May 18 in a 6-1 vote, calls for the construction of 434 homes, a retail center and a 21-theater entertainment complex between Interstate 5 and the city’s historic North Beach area.

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Commissioners granted approval of the project over city officials’ recommendation to limit the commercial portion to outlet stores and an entertainment center. The city cited concerns that the new Marblehead stores--namely a Target Greatlands, Albertsons and Longs Drugstore--would be in competition with a Wal-Mart planned for the nearby Plaza Pacifica.

“Frankly, I wish Plaza Pacifica well,” said William D. Ross II of SDC Partners Ltd., which is developing the property with Lusk. “I do not, however, believe that the viability of our center should be restricted because of Plaza Pacifica’s perceived potential existence.”

Some of those who opposed the project, including Commissioner Keith Trezek, prefer the site be a hotel resort as provided in the city’s General Plan.

“I think the city is selling out to approve this because of its inability to provide necessities in this town,” Trezek said before voting against the plan May 18.

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Developers and supporters of the project argue that the community benefits are important in light of recent budget cuts. Contributions, including developer fees, total nearly $27 million.

From that money, the developers plan to create meandering trails overlooking the ocean and two public parks. They also plan to give $250,000 to the city’s library and $1 million to senior service programs. Another $1.5 million would help revitalize the city’s North Beach area.

In addition, a $4.2-million contribution to San Clemente schools and $7.2 million to fund the future Vista Hermosa Interchange and other intersection improvements are planned.

The San Clemente Chamber of Commerce supports the project--which would fuel the promotion of downtown businesses with a $1-million donation.

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Resident Jim Hill says the city needs this money.

“The income would add significantly to the city’s revenue and at no additional cost to taxpayers,” Hill told council members recently.

Still, some residents prefer things the way they are.

“There’s no reason we cannot slow them down to make sure we are making the absolute best decision for our community,” Christinson said.

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Her group meets regularly in members’ homes and has gathered 1,340 signatures opposing the project. Their objections include environmental concerns, traffic issues and competition among businesses.

Residents say they plan to flood the City Council meeting set for 5:30 p.m. June 22 at the San Clemente Community Center.

The city “is going to become a mini shopping mecca, and the reason we moved here was to get away from that and to be close to the ocean,” Christinson said.


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