Betty Hill, Capistrano Beach
Residents generally support the Town Center/Lantern District project, designed to beautify the city and encourage new business development.
While the concept is appealing, Dana Point taxpayers who are funding the project should be warned that, in reality, the project is an ambitious and costly undertaking for our city. As admitted by Dana Point staff at the March 18th council meeting, the city is “rolling the dice” by fronting the development costs.
And although construction has begun, several key issues still need to be resolved.
Financing is a major concern. Dana Point is spending $13 million for just the first phase of the project, which is 45 percent of the city’s anticipated 2014 income of approximately $29 million. This year’s large budget deficit will be funded from the city’s reserves, mainly to cover the Town Center project. Phase two of the project could cost an additional $7 million to $9 million.
Anticipated development fees will return only a small percentage of the cost to the city, although developers typically pay the majority of the cost. Property owners in Town Center are also receiving a gift from taxpayers by not being asked to contribute to the cost of their improvements.
The Town Center plan assumes the improvements will stimulate retail and residential development. However, at the joint Planning Commission and City Council meeting, the council was told by its consultant that the parking requirements in the plan appear to be an impediment for developers. The city is now considering reducing the number of required parking spaces, which will impact nearby residents.
A representative of the building industry told the council that the height limit in Town Center is a major obstacle for developers to overcome. Raising the height allowance would encourage developers and increase property values in Town Center, but would adversely impact our community.
With the construction of phase one almost complete, the city should stop “rolling the dice” with taxpayer money. Dana Point’s resources are limited and the city must satisfy its many obligations throughout Dana Point and be able to fund other important programs that benefit residents and attract visitors.
Hopefully, Town Center will begin to meet expectations by actual requests for building permits. Until then, the City Council should reconsider future spending on the project and give priority to the financial well-being of all of Dana Point.