By Andrea Swayne
If the first 24 years of cityhood were spent in training and warming up, then 2014 was the year Dana Point crossed the starting line. Years of groundwork, planning, re-planning and taking the first few steps forward, made for a pivotal year—one that brought beginnings to long-term plans and projects city-wide.
Dana Point’s elected leadership also saw a big change in players, adding a trifecta of new members to the City Council.
We caught up with Mayor Carlos Olvera to learn about some of his goals, hopes and expectations for 2015. Here are his thoughts on a few of the upcoming changes expected.
TOWN CENTER LANTERN DISTRICT
With completion of infrastructure improvements along Pacific Coast Highway by the city and the South Coast Water district complete, phase two work along Del Prado Avenue is well underway, with completion expected by mid-2015.
“Starting on the final phase of Del Prado streetscape improvements on Jan. 6 puts us about a month ahead of schedule,” Olvera said. “We expect to continue seeing applications for new development by property owners in the Lantern District throughout the New Year, adding to other projects in the pipeline we should begin to see early on.”
The first large development plan approved in 2014 was Majestic Housing and Development’s mixed-use project, slated to bring 109 residential units and 32,500 square feet of retail space to be built in three phases on seven non-contiguous lots. Majestic could conceivably begin construction in 2015, Olvera said, however as of now, a groundbreaking date has not been set.
The Planning Commission and city staff have also seen applications for other mixed-use projects, including proposals at PCH and Ruby Lantern at the former site of the Dana Marina Motel and another at PCH and Golden Lantern.
The bottom line, Olvera said, is that in the next year the Lantern District will see a lot of changes that have been a long time coming.
“Dana Point, as a city, started with the Lantern District about 20 years ago and the original concept of a business district was created by the county, way back in 1969,” he said. “The results of this year’s election have shown overwhelming support for completion of the Lantern District—and Doheny Village for that matter.”
Olvera noted the three candidates who won three open seats on the council all expressed an opinion of moving the Lantern District forward, while those in favor of slowing it down, came in fourth through ninth place among voters.
One of the aspects expected to be most beneficial to residents, he said, will be the resulting improvement of the city’s tax base as a destination resort city.
“Whenever there is a problem of any kind in Dana Point, the comment I most frequently get from residents is that they are worried it will lower their property values,” Olvera said. “So the result of all this change is the expected rise in property values. And the win-win is taxes being covered by this influx of business.”
When asked for his response to those who are skeptical that Lantern District revitalization will bring new business, Olvera said the interest by perspective developers so far provides an optimistic outlook for the district.
“About nine months ago there were comments being made to the effect that Dana Point is ‘rolling the dice’ on whether new business will come to the Lantern District, but we now have several applicants to develop some of the area’s vacant land and rebuild on other lots,” he said. “With that, the City Council approved a development impact fee, specifically designed for the district, to recoup some of the costs spent in upgrading the infrastructure—PCH and Del Prado streetscape improvements.”
Among the first orders of business for the city in 2015, Olvera said, will be developing the Doheny Village Specific Plan—a document that is now roughly two-thirds complete and in need of further public input.
“The work load needed to accomplish this will rely heavily on the Planning Department’s handling of applicants for the Lantern District,” he said. “We will be using Roma Design Group, the same consultant used during conceptual design, and I think we can turn that around at least within the next 12 months.”
When asked for his response to the naysayers who believe Doheny Village will not get off the ground, Olvera pointed out current movement in the right direction as helping to keep some momentum on the project.
“I personally have been involved in the Chamber of Commerce meetings in Doheny Village about great ideas for improvements that can be made before the specific plan is designed,” he said. “One specific example is the conversion of the vacant dirt lot at Doheny Park Road and Domingo Avenue (next to El Patio Cafe) being converted into a free, landscaped, public parking lot. It has the approval of City Council and will happen soon. The Wednesday Capo Beach Farmers Market will then move up to that corner, to have better visibility.”
The city is leasing the space from Capo Beach Church. The church will install a sign advertising their location and the city will be paving it and utilizing it as city parking.
The mixed-use development approved for PCH and Dana Point Harbor Drive/Del Obispo Avenue, on the former site of a mobile home park on the Denny’s restaurant/Del Obispo side of PCH, is underway with machinery clearing and grading to prepare for construction.
“More has to be done at that intersection,” Olvera said. “It is a gateway to the city and we now have only a vacant lot, two abandoned buildings and a gas station. I am very hopeful we can adopt some specific uses for development at that intersection in 2015.”
The Doheny Hotel project application, proposed for the southwest corner of the intersection, was withdrawn by the developer in October after being rejected by the Planning Commission—for issues related to its size and variance requests—and before City Council had a chance to vote on their appeal. The withdrawal came with a promise to resubmit with a new plan at a later date.
“The Doheny Hotel started out with a four-star hotel project. Unfortunately they were only able to acquire a three-star hotel lot,” Olvera said. “I hope that we can come up with some development design standards specifically for that location and acceptable to the residents, in order to make it easier for the developer to know what to build to.”
“Pending a California Coastal Commission hearing, scheduled for Jan. 8 to determine whether an appeal of the project merits its delay, we could expect construction of landside improvements at the Harbor to begin sometime in the summer—perhaps August,” Olvera said. “It is planned to be a five-year project in which, generally, construction will start at PCH and Dana Point Harbor Drive and move west across the Harbor, according to the county plan.”
If all goes according to plan, construction will start with the streets, then parking and the parking structure, followed by construction in the wharf area and Mariners Village, he said.
HENS IN RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOODS
“I am a firm believer in getting public input to our code, rules and regulations, including the issue that came up in Capo Beach on whether to allow keeping chickens,” Olvera said. “Our code was adopted from the county; however we have learned that several surrounding cities allow a limited number of chickens as a hobby in residential neighborhoods. I am supportive of people bringing ideas such as this to the table, so we can discuss them in an open forum, learn the pros and cons, and see if we can find a compromise.”
“Although we are mandated by state law to allow group homes with restrictions, it is our job to enforce all other ordinances that ensure the best quality of life for our residents,” Olvera said. “So far we’ve created a neighborhood watch group to try and identify areas that the city can focus on. A committee of residents is being formed in order to identify nuisances, loitering in public areas and other areas for the city to respond to. I really feel the city will be responsive to this issue in 2015.”
The November election is a mandate for change—for a new point of view and a period of more rapid improvement in the city, Olvera said.
“There are some lots in our business district that haven’t been touched since they were graded in 1923,” he said. “In 2015 we are set to change that.”
Olvera added that he would also like invite open input—on the public dais—from council members during upcoming appointments of Dana Point representatives to committees, commissions and districts.
“The thing to remember here is that we have three new councilmen who have not previously been actively involved in civic affairs,” Olvera said. “The voters chose them and we should make sure we hear from them rather than going with the status quo. I would like appointments to be made more openly and with individuals’ interests and talents in mind, rather than assignments just being dictated. In the past, a list was written by the Mayor and then voted on, with no input. I’d like to break away from that tradition.”
Olvera said it is his hope that such open discussion should result in better and more open choices being made.
“Also, in March we will review both the Planning Commission and Cultural Commission appointments,” he added. “Because we have three new council members, and the fact that all commissioners serve at the pleasure of the City Council, it is especially important for our three new councilmen to review the resumes of those currently holding seats. I would expect that an open call for all of the seats will be made.”
When asked what title he would give to 2014, his response was: The Year of Decision. When the same question was posed regarding 2015, he answered: The Year of Change.