PRESS: SD Union Tribune May 2013

This article was originally published on the San Diego Union Tribune website on May 3, 2013 by Aaron Claverie (link to the article).



Ambient Communities proposing to build 200-acre tract outside Old Town Temecula

San Diego-based developer Ambient Communities is working to transform 200 acres west of Old Town Temecula into a community that will feature homes, condominiums, apartment buildings, parks, public trails and a civic component, which could end up being a college campus or a hospital.

Because of the size of the project, which is being called “Village West” right now, it will take more than a year to complete the environmental documentation that will be required before the project can be considered by the Planning Commission and City Council.

But the wheels are turning, and Ambient plans to submit pre-application renderings and plans to the city in the next 30 days, said Rob Honer, a company principal.

Those pre-applications will be followed by formal applications that will allow the public to scope out the plans and take in the full view of Ambient’s vision, which includes a “high-tech” elementary school that company officials hope will serve as a magnet for families.

“We really want to make it special,” Honer said.

The sale of the land to Ambient by the Firestone family, John and Juanita of Newport Beach, was announced Thursday by Lee & Associates, the firm that handled the transaction.

It is one of the largest deals in Riverside County history, and by far the largest in the history of Temecula, according to the firm.

Temecula Mayor Mike Naggar said Thursday afternoon that the property has a lot of challenges, but also a lot of potential.

“I’m hoping they can rise to the occasion,” he said.

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.

The project was dubbed University Hills, and city officials were optimistic that a deal was within reach.

The negotiations hit a snag, however, when the city never heard back from Loma Linda University Medical Center, which was considering building a hospital in Temecula to complement its new facility in Murrieta.

Naggar said the city still intends to push for a university and a hospital, if Kaiser Permanente doesn’t end up building one on another site.

“Setting aside land for a university or a hospital is a priority for the city,” he said.

Honer said Friday that acreage on the southern end of the property is being set aside for some sort of civic use — such as a hospital, college campus or facility housing multiple satellite campuses — but the details haven’t been firmed up yet.

The entire Firestone property was 270 acres.

Last year, a Costa Mesa-based developer was looking at building a large apartment complex on a 70-acre wedge of the property near Rancho California Road and Ridge Park Drive.

Honer said Ambient has plans to buy that wedge as well and develop it along with the rest of the land.

For many local residents, the undeveloped hillside to the west of Old Town is an amenity, and Honer said the company is well aware of that sentiment.

He said development will be concentrated on one-fourth of the property, leaving the balance undisturbed. He also talked about making sure there are plenty of trails and public spaces in the development that will be available for all city residents.

As sketched out right now, the mix of housing will include triplexes, town homes, apartments and single-family homes with great views.

Aside from the open space, parks, school and the civic component, the rest of the land will be developed with housing. Honer put the percentage at 90 or 95 percent, with that remaining 5 to 10 percent taking the form of residential commercial, such as a neighborhood coffee shop or bagel place.

“Old Town is mostly commercial, so we see this as being the residential addition to sustain the commercial in Old Town,” he said.

Talking about the proposed elementary school, it would be one of the last new elementary schools in Temecula, and company officials want to make it special, a place where students will have access to all the latest technology.

The city long has anticipated some sort of development to occur in that area, and plans are on the books for what’s called the Western Bypass, a road that would allow someone to drive from Temecula Parkway through the new development to Rancho California Road, according to Greg Butler, the city’s public works director.

Honer said Ambient has woven that road into its plans.

Last year, Ambient bought a 7-acre piece of land on south Pujol Street. The plans for that acreage call for 141 dwelling units, which may be rentals or for sale, depending on market conditions.

Honer said it has been called Shearwater Creek and that plans will be submitted to the city soon, for possible consideration in the summer.