Mission Viejo City Council members are looking to redevelop another piece of land in the city, this time at Oso Creek Golf Course.
Their last redevelopment efforts at the Stein Mart property were met with controversy when officials issued $19 million in revenue bonds earlier this year.
[Read: Mission Viejo Moves Ahead With Stein Mart Purchase, Locking In Millions Of Bond Debt]
The city originally purchased the golf course for $13 million in 2019.
Now, officials are looking to convert the land into public space — but there’s two competing plans city staff will consider.
One plan, which city staff said can get done quicker, calls for building more trails and a cafe.
The other plan calls for event space and 90 new parking spots, along with new trails and some potential farmland.
The city council voted 4-1, with Councilmember Brian Goodell voting no, for the city to create a budget for the two short term plans.
A proposed long term plan had ideas for hotels and a surf park, but council members decided against including any of these concepts in the proposal.
“In Mission Viejo, we continue to take some bold action and we really do believe in investing in the community,” Councilmember Wendy Bucknum said at the Nov. 9 meeting. “We are trying to find ways to make sure that golf course is viable and we provide what we can to residents that are non-golfers.”
During public comment at the Nov. 9 meeting, most residents emphasized the importance of providing open space and avoiding developments that increase traffic, noise or light pollution.
“The less concrete down there the better, in my mind,” resident Richard Spencer said at the meeting. “I think that fits the model of Mission Viejo where we have this open space and parks and greenery … I would encourage you to think of things that are more of a green sense in that area.”
The most controversial part of the plan was the idea to demolish the YMCA building and replace it with an indoor swimming pool.
After residents raised various concerns, council members repeatedly emphasized during the Nov. 9 meeting that they have no intention of changing the building and would only consider renovating the YMCA site if the organization independently chooses to leave.
The golf course redevelopment plans come after Mission Viejo city officials approved to issue $19 million in revenue bonds toward purchasing and renovating the Stein Mart building in the downtown area, just two miles away from the golf course.
However, city officials paid $11.9 million toward solely purchasing the building, and it’s unsure what exactly the remaining $7.1 million will be used for.
City Attorney Bill Curley clarified that these funds will be used for design work, clean-up of the property and Oso Creek and architectural studies, but specific changes have yet to be disclosed.
So far, some new plans have included tearing down part of the building to create an alleyway connection to Oso Creek.
But, according to the city staff’s Nov. 9 presentation, design plans are still in progress and it’s unclear whether or not the actual Stein Mart building will stay or be demolished to make room for new developments.
The city is expected to fund another $27 million toward the second phase of the project in 2023, creating a total cost of $46 million for a project that’s been in the works since 2016.
The project has been under fire from some local residents because of the cost.
“Please present a rationalization that this $46 million project, in such a tiny area of the city, is justified,” Cathy Schlicht, a former mayor of Mission Viejo, wrote in a Nov. 9 letter to the council. “Who will the customers be and will there be enough business generation to defend the creation of this monster public debt that will not eat into the city budget for the next 20 years?”
In February, the council started negotiations with the Kinstler Family Trust to purchase the vacant Stein Mart building in that shopping center.
Those discussions have all taken place behind closed doors — which state law narrowly allows so long as council members only discuss price and terms of payment.
But it’s also opened a lot of questions from the public and other business owners in the shopping center about what’s actually going on.
The city has already been sued by Jane Kronick-Gath, a property owner in the shopping center, alleging the city council violated California’s open meetings laws by not discussing the issue publicly.
There is a court hearing date set for Jan. 13, 2022.
[Read: Downtown Mission Viejo Property Owner Challenges Government Secrecy]
Additionally, none of the property appraisals have been made public, but city officials have repeatedly mentioned they will be released after the deal is closed.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC News Intern. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
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