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Postal facility to change address

August 21, 2007|Tony Barboza | Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Postal Service will not build a massive mail processing center in San Juan Capistrano and instead will place it on 26 acres the agency owns in nearby Aliso Viejo, officials said Monday.

Although San Juan Capistrano officials were relieved that the 9-acre building would not occupy a grassy parcel between Interstate 5 and the hills on its northern edge, officials in Aliso Viejo said that they too opposed the facility.

"It's too big, too intense, and it has too many large trucks to be compatible with this community," Aliso Viejo Mayor Carmen Cave said.

The master-planned community of 45,000 may not be in a position to stop the development, however. The Postal Service has owned the land on Liberty Road near Aliso Creek Road since 1991, and the property is zoned as a business park.

Concerned about the effect on traffic, officials in several southern Orange County cities, including Dana Point and Mission Viejo, have vowed to fight the facility through municipal resolutions and legal action, but the Postal Service, as a federal agency, may contend it is exempt from local laws.

The Postal Service last month agreed to buy 78 acres of Rancho Capistrano, a 180-acre religious retreat center in San Juan Capistrano owned by Crystal Cathedral Ministries.

The San Juan Capistrano site offered more room and easier freeway access than its property in Aliso Viejo, but the agency decided against moving forward after a study showed it would have to build a costly bridge over railroad tracks, Postal Service spokesman Richard Maher said.

Officials and residents in San Juan Capistrano criticized the proposed facility, which would bring 300 jobs and 200 trucks a day to the mostly undeveloped site, used for soccer fields and storage.

Opponents said it would threaten the character of the city, compound traffic congestion and occupy land that had been considered for open space. The city launched a letter-writing campaign last week, collecting hundreds.

"We're very happy that the Postal Service recognized the unique character of San Juan Capistrano and how inappropriate this facility would be at the entryway to our town," Councilman Mark Nielsen said.

But only the cost and delay of building a bridge factored into the agency's decision to back out, Maher said.

Currently, southern Orange County's mail is sorted in Santa Ana, and a new facility is necessary to accommodate the county's population, he said. Construction in Aliso Viejo will begin in early 2008, with the facility scheduled to open in 2010.

Cave said Aliso Viejo would fight the plan by challenging the environmental review and possibly through legal action.

tony.barboza@latimes.com

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