MISSION VIEJO, Calif.—A controversial development project to turn a strip mall in Mission Viejo, California, into an apartment complex—with a Whole Foods Market underneath—was killed, after the city rejected the developer’s rezoning request, which critics said might open the door for more similar projects that might lower the community’s quality of life.
The Mission Viejo City Council on May 10 unanimously voted to deny ValueRock Realty’s request to rezone the Garden Plaza, located on the northwest side of Marguerite Parkway and La Paz Road, as “mixed-use” for both commercial and residential use. Councilman Ed Sachs was absent.
The Irvine-based developer’s request to change the property’s zoning—currently for office and professional use only—would have paved way for replacing a series of 47-year-old adobe-tiled buildings with a 234-unit apartment complex and 48,000 square feet of retail shops, including a Whole Foods Market, at street level.
Though ValueRock’s application for the project itself is still pending, the council’s decision on zoning means the project is effectively “dead on arrival and not permitted to move forward,” Mayor Wendy Bucknum said during the meeting.
“We know what a great place Mission Viejo is to live, work, and raise our kids, and it is our job to ensure to the best of our ability that it stays that way,” Bucknum said.
Residents in the surrounding area said at the meeting that the building project would be out of place and add traffic to their neighborhood.
One resident cited other potential impacts of the project, including air quality decline, traffic congestion, increase in property values in the region, current business relocations, utility systems’ capacity overload, and more water usage, for the council to consider when reviewing the proposal.
Another resident said he typically hits traffic at La Paz Road before the freeway. If the project were to be built, he said, the traffic would likely be exponentially heavier.
Others expressed concern for the current small businesses that would have to relocate their shops.
“I hope tonight is not a soft no—but a solid no,” a resident said. “We need to protect small businesses.”
However, Councilman Greg Raths said that while he didn’t support ValueRock’s project idea, he supported a redesign of the aging Garden Plaza.
“They need to get together over there and fix that place up, because it’s a wreck,” Raths said.
Last month, the city’s Planning and Transportation Commission already recommended that the council deny the rezoning request, saying that the proposed building project does not fit the character of the city.
A spokesperson for ValueRock Realty did not respond to requests for comment.