Laguna Niguel Council discusses Gateway project

The Laguna Niguel Gateway, a mixture of industrial uses, might see a future as a pedestrian-oriented village. The concept was set forth by the Gateway Specific Plan approved at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

The plan allows for residential uses on Cabot and Forbes roads, a first in the area, after a 2006 recommendation by the Urban Land Institute that recognized housing could revitalize the area.

However, Community Development Director Dan Fox made it clear that it is not a city redevelopment plan, but rather a zoning document that identifies uses, development standards and design guidelines for future projects.

The plan updates the 1999 Gateway Specific Plan that had similar transformative intentions, but the city didn't see any significant changes, even after Metrolink service was added, Fox said.

The city added a mixed-use zoning category, the first in the city, which could potentially turn the industrial region into a downtown area with dining, entertainment, small businesses and housing.

Right now the Gateway has 1.31 million square feet of existing non-residential development capacity. The 1999 Gateway Specific Plan allows 3.78 million square feet of non-residential development. The new plan will allow for 2.26 million square feet of non-residential and 2,994 residential units.

Woodie Tescher, project director for the consulting team, added that they would like to add travel lines and bike lanes, improve pedestrian walkways and enhance signage.

Open spaces are an important component, and the buildings would be set back from the street to allow for walkways and landscaping.

The consulting team also discussed improvements at Oso Creek, such as a nature trail and additional landscaping.

The Crown Valley Parkway widening, which is in its first phase, would also help the area that would experience more traffic.

Concerned residents questioned the traffic and whether the city could handle an influx of residents and visitors.

"We'll have to watch traffic very closely," Councilman Robert Ming said. "Every project has to justify capacity to handle the trips. Otherwise, they won't be built."

Business owners approached the council, concerned that their businesses would be pushed out by the updates.

"With the state of the economy, why would you put businesses already struggling in a worse position?" Edward Fredette asked.

Mike Leeches, another resident, said the plan isn't known by most people outside the Gateway.

He said developers will be less likely to sign longer leases and also asked for the plan to be postponed.

Gene Price cited numerous businesses that he frequents in the Gateway and how he hoped they would not be affected.

Fox pointed out that non-conforming uses do not have to be removed after a certain amount of time. The plan applies to new uses, except when a new non-conforming business replaces a similar non-conforming use.

"I am concerned about the theoretical assumptions that people are going to be naturally attracted to live and work [in the Gateway]," Price said.

The council addressed the issue, and Mayor Gary Capata pointed out that he is a Gateway-area business owner.

"As we revitalize the Gateway, it's important to keep those unique small businesses down there," he said.

Councilwoman Linda Lindholm pointed out that the plan won't transform the area overnight and said she wasn't sure it would affect businesses at this time.

Ming addressed the comment regarding the lack of awareness around town about the plan.

"It hurts me to hear that you say you haven't heard about this," he said. He went on to mention the many notices posted and meetings held over the last several years.

He also pointed out that regardless of the plan, the city plans to develop the area with sidewalks and landscaping.

"It's going to be a much nicer area, whether there's a project or not," he said.

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