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By Cindy Monroe, Dana Point
When my husband and I opened Luxe Restaurant almost four years ago our two boys were just out of diapers and I didn’t have much spare time to donate. Despite that, I was encouraged by Councilman Schoeffel (a regular customer of Luxe at the time) to be a “spokesperson or ambassador” of sorts for the Town Center Project to rally support by local business owners and property owners. I did just that. Later, when I was invited to join the Town Center Committee, I gladly accepted. Then unfortunately, when the vote to fund the Del Prado phase (where my business is located) of Town Center was presented to the council, Mr. Schoeffel did a complete 180 and voted against it!
I recently was named, along with a few others on the Town Center Committee, on what was intended to be a “hit piece” that was inserted into the Dana Point Times. The piece unsuccessfully insinuates that we are self-serving, bad people. When in reality, we are local business and property owners—and very nice ones, I might add—that would like to see the Town Center project carried out to completion. This “hit piece” then asks for voters to choose Jody Payne, Chuck Rathbone and Nancy Jenkins—who are ironically all supported by Councilman Schoeffel. Jenkins has since stated that the piece was published without her knowledge or her permission.
Like most Dana Point residents, I am for healthy and responsible development. But can all variances be bad? The adjacent lot to my restaurant is now a giant hole with a fence around it. The proposed project met all of the Town Center requirements. It was an aesthetically pleasing design of three stories (first floor retail) and had two and a half levels of subterranean parking. The developer could not get the project to pencil out due to the cost for all of the parking, so the investor scrapped the project altogether.
Had they asked for and been granted a small variance, there would have been shops, restaurants and residences there today. For how long will Dana Point residents tolerate that not-so-lovely green fence? At least the lot had Christmas trees for a month of each year prior to that! It seems without a little variance here and there we will all fail. Thus the reason variances exist, just as amendments do. Currently there are 14 vacant lots in the Town Center. There have been only two new developments within the last 20 years.
The St. Regis, Ritz Carlton and Laguna Cliffs Marriott all required several variances (although permitted before city incorporation and therefore presided over by the county) and are the biggest sources of income for our city. They currently send most of their guests to Laguna Beach to shop and dine. As a 10-year Dana Point resident and small business owner, my personal wish for Town Center and future developments like Doheny Village, is to attract additional local, small business owners to open successful businesses for myself and other residents to enjoy. I look forward to easy, convenient, one-time parking where customers can stroll, shop and dine. After passing the PCH and Del Prado street improvements on a 5-0 vote by our City Council, our city employees worked hard to make this vision a reality. To carry this out, Roma Design was contracted. Roma is an extremely reputable firm that is responsible for projects such as: The Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica and the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington DC—just to name a few. Albeit on a much smaller scale, our Lantern District is sure to be fabulous with credentials such as these.
Enter stage right … the politically-motivated fear mongering! They say: “No variances should be considered!” “Development is bad!” “Our ‘hometown character’ will be destroyed!” Finally, a few mud-slinging hit pieces are published against good, hard-working members or our community. Can’t we all just get along? Not as long as they continue to promote divisiveness among our residents. I beg your support. Our local businesses need companion businesses and not vacant storefronts and lots. We are all suffering through the current construction struggling to pay rent and working hard to support our families and those of our employees. Must it all be in vain? Not all variances are bad.