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Big Changes Poised at the Crossroads : Growth, Rocketing Land Values Foreseen for New County Hub

September 27, 1993|JEFFREY A. PERLMAN | TIMES URBAN AFFAIRS WRITER; and Researched by CAROLINE LEMKE and JEFFREY A. PERLMAN / Los Angeles Times

LAGUNA NIGUEL — Shane Glass, owner of Three Flags shopping center on Forbes Road, sees the San Joaquin Hills tollway being built nearby and envisions spanking new, seven-story offices.

"The tollway puts our chunk of dirt at the confluence of two major highways," said Glass, referring to the junction of the 17.5-mile San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor and Interstate 5. "The property values are going to go up to a point where the current uses don't really apply any more."

City Manager Tim Casey agreed. Some of the original property owners built light-industrial buildings there for temporary uses, thinking that the ultimate land use wouldn't occur until--well, about now.

And with a MetroLink train station also coming next year, the days of the sleepy warehouses and relatively low-profile businesses in the area may be numbered.

Tollway Projects
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 3, 1993 Orange County Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Column 1 Metro Desk 7 inches; 228 words Type of Material: Correction; Infobox
For the Record--A number of major development projects are planned or underway along the route of the San Joaquin Hills toll road. The long-awaited construction of the 17.5-mile highway is not expected to spur growth on the northern portion of the corridor, but some experts say it may speed development south of El Toro Road. The map below shows major projects most likely to occur in the near future along the entire route. A map published in The Times last Monday was based on outdated information.
1. UC Irvine and the Irvine Co. plan a biotech research center on two parcels of land near MacArthur Boulevard. Most of the area between El Toro Road and a future extension of Sand Canyon Avenue is a greenbelt protected from future development.
2. Irvine Co.'s Newport Ridge (2,550 units) and Newport Coast (2,600 units) residential developments. County officials approved this project independent of plans for the corridor and the Irvine Co. says the tollway is not necessary to provide adequate traffic flow in the area.
3. Market Place at Laguna Niguel. The retail center will include Wal-Mart, Mervyn's and a major supermarket.
4. New gas station.
5. Aliso Viejo-planned community. About half of the 20,000 planned housing units already are built or underway.
6. Mission Viejo Co.'s 290,000 square-foot commercial and retail center at Pacific Park.
7. Builder Nathan Shappell plans 1,132-unit residential complex in area bordered roughly by Moulton Parkway on west and the tollway on east.
Sources: Irvine Co., Mission Viejo Co., cities of Laguna Niguel and Mission Viejo; Researched by JEFFREY A. PERLMAN / Los Angeles Times
GRAPHIC-MAP: Tollway Projects; Los Angeles Times

"This could possibly become the hub of South Orange County," said John Conner, owner of Sepulveda Building Supplies, also on Forbes Road. "We need this area to be a place to go, not to come from."

Across town, at the Market Place in Laguna Niguel, a new retail center is being built that will boast the county's first Wal-Mart. Home builder Nathan Shapell has permits to construct 1,132 units near the corridor. In a corner of Mission Viejo, an office-retail complex is being built next to Interstate 5. And in Aliso Viejo, thousands of new residential units remain to be constructed.

Near the corridor's northern section between UC Irvine and the coast, the Irvine Co. has plans for more homes, and the campus is scheduled to expand as well, with new research facilities and a commercial strip near MacArthur Boulevard.

Such development--and even redevelopment--is at the heart of a decades-old debate: Will construction on the San Joaquin Hills tollway, which began earlier this month, bring a wave of new commercial and residential projects to South Orange County?

Environmentalists opposed to the tollway argue that the $1.1-billion highway will bring masses of people who will trample some of the county's last remaining open space and pollute the air with exhaust fumes from thousands of new car trips each day.

On the other side, the tollway agency's federal environmental impact statement argues that by providing a measure of traffic relief, the tollway may change only the rate of growth--not the amount or location.

Regardless, business owners as well as officials in several cities along the corridor said tollway construction may spur development once stalled by the recession.

Even in Mission Viejo, across Interstate 5 from the area traversed by the tollway, city officials believe commercial activity will pick up.

"I'm sure the prospect of the San Joaquin Hills Corridor will have a positive effect on merchants' plans for expansion," Mission Viejo Community Development Director Clint Sherrod said. "That's because the tollway will enhance traffic circulation in this area, and there's just tremendous pressure for growth and a road system to accommodate it."

Sherrod also predicts a growth spurt along his city's eastern border, where the first 3.2-mile segment of the Foothill tollway opens to traffic next month.

Further north, near Irvine and Newport Beach, the Irvine Co. has two development projects under way: Newport Coast and Newport Ridge.

Newport Coast has permits for 2,600 homes and apartments. So far, only 92 lots have been sold and 100 homes have been put on the market. Newport Ridge has permits for 2,550 homes and apartments, with 100 homes up for sale so far.

Neither project has direct access to the tollway, and county officials found that other roads in the area could handle traffic from the new neighborhoods.

In approving Newport Ridge, however, county officials inserted a condition that grading or construction of the tollway between Laguna Canyon Road and MacArthur Boulevard must begin before the Irvine Co. can undertake development of more than 2,000 units there.

Two weeks ago, a federal judge blocked tollway construction along a portion of that route, pending a new hearing in January.

But Irvine Co. senior vice president Larry Thomas said the county's restriction related to the tollway is "probably moot" anyway. Construction of more than 2,000 units is unlikely, he said, even though the company is entitled to build 2,550.

There are five other planning areas in the company's long-range development plans, with two zoned for residential construction without specific site plans yet.

But, according to Thomas, "the major consequence of the corridor will be to relieve and redistribute traffic within the region, rather than to speed or encourage future development along the corridor, certainly on the portion that runs through the Irvine Ranch."

Much of the tollway's path winds through greenbelt areas protected from development. What's more, some areas along the route are already built out.

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