PRESS: Press Enterprise – July 2013

This article was originally published on The Press Enterprise website on July 26, 2013 by Aaron Claverie (link to the article).

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TEMECULA: Huge development planned for Old Town hills

San Diego-based developer putting together master plan for 200 plus acres west of Old Town

A large swath of acreage west of Old Town could be transformed into a master-planned development featuring a variety of housing types, a large park, an elementary school and possibly a new hospital or university campus.
The plan is being put together by San Diego-based developer Ambient Communities, which purchased 200 acres of land from John and Juanita Firestone, of Newport Beach, earlier this year.
Rob Honer of Ambient said Thursday that the company has since added another 70-acre parcel near Rancho California Road, land that had been eyed by a different developer for a large apartment complex, bringing the total to almost 270 acres.
Ambient proposes building at least 2,000 dwelling units, a mix of housing that will include apartments, stacked condominiums, townhomes, triplexes and single-family dwellings.
Honer said the community, which has been dubbed “Village West,”€ is being planned as a series of villages, “€œeach with its own identify and public amenity.”
The development team still hasn’€™t completed the design of those various amenities which it is referring to as a “€œstring of pearls”€ but Honer said they will be neighborhood focal points, places for relaxation or recreation, where moms can meet for afternoon walks or children can play.
“€œThat’s what we’€™re working on right now,” he said Thursday, July 25.
There also could be a small section of commercial buildings, which would allow for a neighborhood cafe or similar uses.
To handle the influx of school-aged children, the preliminary plans call for the construction of a ‘€œhigh-tech’ elementary school.
The largely undeveloped hillsides west of Old Town have long been treasured by area residents, who have banded together to fight a power line project and a quarry proposed for land to the south that, they felt, would mar that open space.
Honer said Ambient is well area of that sentiment and the company will be focusing development on the eastern edge of the property and working with the natural topography of the land to preserve vistas and create a walkable, interconnected community.
A portion of property in the southern section is being set aside for some sort of public use, which could be a hospital or higher education campus.
“€œHowever, we’re still too early in the process to identify a user,”€ he said.
In recent weeks, Ambient officials have been talking with a City Council subcommittee of Mayor Mike Naggar, Councilman Jeff Comerchero and city planning officials about the project. Formal plans could be submitted this fall.

Because of the size and scope of the project, Naggar said Thursday that the city will require a full environmental impact report that will detail how traffic, and other issues, will be handled.
The city has long anticipated development of that land, and Temecula’€™s longterm circulation plan calls for the addition of a north-south road called the Western Bypass, which would allow someone to drive from Temecula Parkway through the new development to Rancho California Road.
The new plan for that bypass has it connecting with Vincent Moraga Drive. Traffic would flow from Vincent Moraga to Diaz Road, which could extend all the way to Cherry Street in the future.
In 2010, the city and the Firestone family were discussing a deal that would have involved the Firestones giving land to the city for the construction of a hospital and a university in exchange for the city covering the costs of environmental documentation associated with a large housing development.
Those talks, however, never produced a deal.
Naggar said the council still wants to see another hospital or university on that site but the exact mechanism for how that might work has not been determined.
In the mid-1990s, an “€œimpresario” named Zev Buffman pitched the idea of a Wild West theme park for that land and plans were approved by the Planning Commission in 1997.
By 1998, Buffman pulled up stakes and took his blueprints to Murrieta. The park, however, was never built.

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