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Not in Their Backyard?

Seniors in Mobile Home Park Don't Want Home Depot Built Nearby


SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Alan Gordon, resident of Capistrano Valley Mobile Home Estates, says a proposal to build a home supply warehouse store next to the park will make the final years of his life miserable.

So the 77-year-old resident and others in this senior community plan to fight the proposal to build a 129,925-square-foot store in what they describe as their backyard. They cite concerns about the dust and dirt that would be raised during construction and about the noise and fumes that would be caused by cars and delivery trucks pulling in and out of the store once it opened.

"There are about 350 to 400 people who live here," said the former World War II bomber pilot, who suffers from emphysema and breathes with the help of an oxygen tank. "They ought to have rights or some kind of consideration. This is a senior citizens' park, and everyone is over 55."

The dispute is the latest over what should be built on the landlocked Stonehill Drive parcel, bought by the city Redevelopment Agency for about $1.2 million in the late 1980s.

The city initially proposed using the 15.79-acre site for the headquarters of a local trash hauler. But the proposal raised furious opposition from residents, and city officials decided the site was unsuitable for the disposal business.

Through the years, there have been proposals for a recreational vehicle storage yard, homes, a mobile home park and a golf driving range. None worked financially, City Manager George Scarborough said.

City officials are now considering a preliminary proposal from Home Depot, weighing the need for the sales-tax revenue it would generate with concerns about how the project would affect neighbors--including small businesses in the tight-knit community of 29,000.

Officials insist they are far from reaching any agreement and are planning several public hearings, said William S. Ramsey, the city's senior planner who is overseeing the project proposal.

A first public meeting is scheduled for Friday to discuss initial findings of an environmental study.

The City Council "will seriously weigh all perspectives," Ramsey said. "Last but not least they will weigh residents' concerns."

Air quality will top the list of concerns from residents.

According to an initial city study, traffic generated from the project could have a long-term effect on air quality, including a 42% increase in carbon monoxide levels over state-established thresholds.

"If I had known, I would not have moved here," said Gordon, who moved to the neighborhood about a year and a half ago after his wife's death.

Park resident Virginia Roberts said she is concerned about the fate of a small wetland area.

The city study shows a tiny strip of land on the project site that attracts 25 bird species and some plants that state officials have targeted as being potentially endangered.

"Some residents are sad because they think it's a done deal," Roberts said, pointing to mounds of earth piled onto the vacant site. "I used to be able to see the ocean, but that was before that dirt was here."

The project also is carefully designed to exclude a small chunk of property owned by the city of Dana Point.

Residents in the neighboring city have been calling about the project, Dana Point City Manager John B. Bahorski said.

"Dana Point is concerned about the traffic impacts that will spill over into our city created by the project," he added.

Local businesses also are watching the proposal carefully.

"There will be positive aspects and there will also be negative aspects" if the store is built, said Tom Facon, executive director of the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce.

A recent chamber survey found that 18 of 33 responding businesses opposed the project; 11 supported it; and four had no opinion, Facon said.

"Competition is good," he added. "It helps. [But] . . . the unfair competition of a large company like Home Depot coming into a small area like San Juan Capistrano could be very devastating."

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NEIGHBORHOODS / Capistrano Valley Mobile Home Estates

Bounded by: Proposed Home Depot project site on the south, railroad tracks on the east, Avenida Aeropuerto on the north and San Juan Creek on the west

Population: About 400

Hot topic: Senior citizens who live in a mobile home park are fighting a proposed Home Depot store on Stonehill Drive

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