City Planners Divided Over Menifee's Future

In a special joint session yesterday between the Menifee City Council and the Menifee Planning Commission, members discussed for two hours t...

In a special joint session yesterday between the Menifee City Council and the Menifee Planning Commission, members discussed for two hours their ideas for the city's future with regards for road improvements, economic growth, cultural development, and the kinds of people they'd like Menifee to attract.

The goal was to revisit and refine the existing vision statement the city council created nearly two years ago. Back in February of 2009, they held a "Visioning Meeting" which in which members of the city council discussed how they envisioned the city in the year 2030. Last night's meeting revisited that statement with members of the current city council and planning commission discussing each item, and determining if they still agreed, and what changes needed to be made.

And there seemed to be a lot of disagreements, and a lot of uncertainty.

"This country living is just a small corner of our town" said John Denver, addressing the issue that Menifee currently has little to prevent its high school and college grads from moving out of town. "Our kids don't come back to this town because we have no amenities. We need to class-up our community."

Several members agreed there needed to be more amenities, but exactly what amenities, where they would go, and how they would attract them was unclear.

The discussion stepped a level higher, and took a look at what kinds of people they wanted to attract to Menifee. Steve PonTell, a planning consultant with Germania Corporation, said that the people is one of the four major factors of what makes a community unique. "The kind of people in your community, what their interests are, their financial background, defines which direction a community goes" he explained.

Fred Twyman expanded on that principle by using the example of Abbott Laboratories, where the company founder lived in Temecula, but commuted to Orange County to go to work, and then later decided to move Abbott to Temecula, where it now enjoys a large footprint. "We have to figure out how to attract those kinds of people to Menifee", Twyman added.

John Denver brought up the topic of Quail Valley, "I'd like to see Quail Valley turn into an upscale community" referring to executive style homes that attract families with six-figure incomes. City Planner Bill Zimmerman used the La Cresta community on the west-side of Murrieta, which are dotted with such homes, as an example of what Quail Valley could one day become.

While members discussed the need for more upscale homes, Darcy Kuenzi felt that Menifee needed more affordable homes on smaller lots. "I believe we don't have many options for starter families. We have more work-at-home families and we need to offer options for them. We have a lot of 7,200 and 10,000 sq ft lots."

But Planning Commissioner Chris Thomas seemed to disagree. "I don't know what the stigma is about living on a large lot. I live on a 7,200 sq ft lot and yet I find I have to defend it." Fred Twyman seemed to agree with Thomas. "The commodity we have is elbow room. Let's use that to attract businesses and upscale homes."

The need to attract more dollars to Menifee was a constant theme throughout the meeting, which was perhaps the only thing everyone agreed upon. But how to bring in those dollars was something no one really had a good grasp of.

"The City of Henderson, NV has its own economic development director", John Denver went on to say. "When they have a parcel of land that they need to develop or redevelop, they figure out what they want, and then go get it. Right now, we're doing the opposite, we wait for a developer to come by and propose something."

City Councilmember Tom Fuhrman felt that the north part of the city along the 215 and Ethanac Rd was perhaps the best place to develop. "It seems there's no traffic jams up there, that's probably the best place to focus economic development efforts."

Traffic jams led to a discussion on infrastructure, namely road improvements, bridges, and sewer lines. Yet there seemed to be disagreement whether to improve infrastructure first, or build more homes first. "You cannot have the infrastructure without the homes & businesses!" John Denver spoke emphatically. But Fuhrman had a different sentiment, "Infrastructure ahead of rooftops, especially after waiting through seven minutes of traffic!", referring to why he was 5 minutes late to the meeting.

Mayor Edgerton expressed what was probably the most unclear but politically safe answer between the two, "Last thing we want is high density. We want infrastructure, we want retail, but we don't want congestion. If we're going to build a city, let's not just build another city."

And the mayor seemed to reflect the overall tone of the other councilmembers and planning commission members, with the exception of Denver and Fuhrman, where there seemed to be no definitive sentiment, and lots of uncertainty.

Even when the topic of preserving Menifee's rural areas came up, no one could agree on how to define "rural". Planning Commissioner Marc Miller described it as a large parcel of land where someone raises animals. Fred Twyman defined it in the way he knew, which was his upbringing in the horse town of Norco. Tom Fuhrman said "I was raised on a farm. You can't define rural, it has to be lived. That's the only way to understand it."

But everyone seemed to agree that some kind of plan was needed, yet it was clear that agreeing on a plan was going to be tough. "Where do we want to go if we don't all agree?", Darcy Kuenzi asked. "Do we want to be a smart community? I don't think a lot of people even understand what we're doing with the general plan." Planning Commissioner Matthew Liesemeyer added, "We have a lot of diversity, where does everything fit? We need to find a middle ground."

With respect to Sun City, John Denver said he would like to turn it into a more attractive destination for retirees, though he didn't provide many specifics on how he would go about doing that. But he did provide one example of creating a trolley system to carry people about.

Denver also brought up the issue of how districts might effect city planning. "We all fought against districts, but I hope it doesn't come down to us fighting over a building in my district or a building in your district." To which Tom Fuhrman countered, "Well slap me if I'm wrong, but I was one who supported districts. I think districts will help us in the planning. It makes us more accountable to our voters."

As it stands right now, the Planning Commission will be tasked with revising the city's Vision Statement.


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