Three big projects to press ahead with Temecula council’s blessing

Three major projects – an upscale Old Town hotel, a senior living campus and a mixed-use housing tract – recently won a green light from the Temecula City Council.

The three development plans – each in different quadrants of the city – marked the largest flurry of council planning approvals since the 2008 recession tightened its grip on Temecula and the rest of the nation.

“We haven’t had something like this (volume of projects) in many, many years,” Mayor Maryann Edwards said in a telephone interview after the council actions. “I’d say several years at least.”

Edwards noted that all of the projects took years of city staff review and community meetings before they were presented to the council for final action. Yet each of the projects drew concerns or criticism despite their extensive fine-tuning during the review process.

“They’ve been in the planning process a long time due to the scope of the projects,” Edwards said.

The council reviews of the three projects spanned nearly six hours, Sept. 5. The meeting began earlier than most council sessions and did not end until after midnight.

The three projects together generated about 30 comments from audience members, an outpouring of remarks that alternately detailed residents’ opposition or support for the plans. Many audience members cited concerns over project densities, increased traffic congestion or other potential impacts.

Concerns over a loss of Old Town’s historic character, in part over the anticipated destruction of the Butterfield Square commercial complex, surfaced during the review of an upscale hotel that would span two streets and blanket nearly 70,000 square feet.

Several historical preservationists spoke of the importance of Butterfield Square, which was built in the late 1970s by a prominent De Luz craftsman and artist. The wood structure with an iconic facade was a prominent Old Town fixture long before the historical business district was transformed into a regional tourist magnet.

The construction of the hotel would also require the destruction of a closed child care center.

Much of Old Town’s transformation has been fueled by the construction of the city’s $93 million Civic Center complex, which opened in December 2010 along Interstate 15 at Main and Mercedes streets.

The 95,500-square-foot municipal complex and its connected parking garage anchor about 5 acres that the city cobbled together at a cost of more than $4 million. The Spanish-style complex includes a conference room, police satellite office, visitors’ center, outdoor amphitheater and a tile fountain and a mosaic mural that feature historic themes.

The hotel plan was presented by Bernie Truax II, who has developed land in Temecula on his own and with other groups. He is perhaps best known in the city for a boxy, art deco building that he opened in Old Town alongside I-15 in May 2014.

The hotel site is a short distance from the Truax Building and the Civic Center. Plans call for the hotel to feature three penthouse suites, three luxury rooms, 16 premium rooms, 21 deluxe rooms and 108 standard rooms.

The five-floor hotel would have enclosed valet parking and include an upper floor pool. Hotel restaurants would range from pub offerings to fine dining.

Several council members praised the hotel plan before it won approval.

“It’s going to be spectacular, beautiful, not only outside but inside, and it’s going to tie Old Town together,” Edwards said during the council review.

Councilman James “Stew” Stewart cast the lone ‘no,’ vote, saying he liked the hotel’s design but not its location.

A 493,044-square-foot senior living project netted the scrutiny of neighbors of Linfield Christian School, a private academy located along Pauba Road east of Margarita Road.

The senior campus would anchor a corner of Linfield’s 100-acre property and include 317 units that would be split between independent living, assisted living and memory care housing. The multi-building campus would blanket nearly 16 acres and include a parking garage.

Vehicles would access the senior campus from Rancho Vista Road, east of Temecula Valley High School.

The project’s amenities include a 9,319-square-foot performance theater, a hair salon, credit union, movie theater, dining facilities, wine cellar, billiards room and a “vitality center” slated to feature an indoor swimming pool, spa and exercise and aerobic rooms.

Dubbed the Generations project, Linfield officials and the developer’s representative said the facility would encourage interaction between seniors and area students and their parents.

For years, Linfield officials had been searching for a development partner to occupy unused land within its sprawling facility. Other proposals, including a college for golf professionals, failed to gain traction and were not built.

Several proponents described the project as an asset to local seniors and the region. Dennis Hollingsworth, a retired state senator who serves on Linfield’s governing board, said it was “amazing how God brought these two parties together here in Temecula.”

The council shrugged off neighbors’ concerns over traffic congestion and approved the senior campus plan in a 4-0 vote.

The developer said the campus would be a one-of-a-kind facility in the region, and the family-owned company hopes to open its doors to new residents in less than three years.

The third project, dubbed Cypress Ridge, calls for 245 housing units to be built on a 23-acre site at the northeast corner of Pechanga Parkway and Loma Linda Road.

That developer said his firm would, upon the buyer’s request, adapt units to serve residents who are elderly, disabled or have special needs. That project attracted comments from about 10 audience members, some of whom cited concerns over the potential for increased traffic on busy Pechanga Parkway.

But city staff and council members countered that traffic to the homes would be far less than the multi-story office building that would be allowed on the property under the current zoning designation.

The plan calls for the developer to make improvements and do repairs and maintenance at nearby Pala Community Park. The project would integrate existing trails in the area and also include five picnic sites, four tot lots, a clubhouse and a bocce ball court.

Stewart cast the lone dissenting vote against the Cypress Ridge project before it won council approval.

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