Menifee Town Center, the development that was billed as Menifee's "downtown", complete with shops, civic center, office buildings, restaurants, a movie theater, a park, walkways and pedestrian bridges, didn't get past city council yesterday evening.
The council was being asked to approve the plan, after the plan had been approved by the Planning Commission last month. Instead, the council voted to "continue" the discussion to the next city council meeting on January 18th.
Three councilmembers, Tom Fuhrman, Fred Twyman, and Wallace Edgerton took issue with what the developer submitted, but each having different issues of their own. Only councilmembers Denver and Kuenzi voiced their approval. But knowing they would be outvoted, Kuenzi offered a motion to continue the discussions for the next council meeting, but also establish an ad hoc committee to work with the developer to address specific concerns that Fuhrman, Twyman, and Edgerton had.
|Menifee Town Center (shaded in orange)|
Fuhrman took issue with numerous items on the Environmental Impact Report, one of which was the soccer field planned for Paloma Wash. The plan calls to build a soccer field in the bed of the wash, to which Furhman noted that he wanted to know if any sludge would be carried through the wash and on to the soccer field.
Sludge, if you're not familiar, is human feces collected from Orange County sewers, sprayed with chemicals, and spread throughout the farm fields of Menifee. However, Mike Bouris, whose family farmed the land that Menifee Town Center is now proposed, testified that they were one of the few farmers that never used sludge.
However, Fuhrman noted that Paloma Wash carries sediment from other areas of Menifee that did use sludge. "The soil sample study says that samples were taken from two piles of dirt", spoke Fuhrman. "But the study says that the origins of the dirt piles are unknown. I want to see a study of the dirt that's in the wash before I let my grandkids play in it!" referring to the proposed soccer field.
Twyman took issue with the residences planned for Menifee Town Center. The existing plans call for 1,052 residential units consisting of small family homes, town homes and condos. "That area is our future business center" Twyman explained to the developer. "I don't want to give up that land to homes. Once you build homes there, you can't go back!"
Twyman went on to talk about jobs, noting that he supports building offices, a movie theater, restaurants, and hopefully attracting a courthouse, but that the residences proposed for Menifee Town Center will bring in more people than the jobs its plans to create. "We've already approved plans for other home developments in the city, and those homes aren't selling right now!" Twyman noted.
Edgerton took issue with the timing, specifically with respect to the "developer agreement". In this case, the developer, Regent Properties, has asked the city to sign a developer agreement, which is a contract that grants the developer an entitlement to make land-use decisions for at least 15 years up to possibly 20.
Developer agreements have proven advantageous in many cities in that it allows developers to adjust to changing economics and trends by making numerous development decisions without having to seek city council approval. They've often resulted in very creative, state-of-the-art developments that generate lots of revenue.
On the other hand, an agreement lasting 15 to 20 years, in what is described as Menifee's "downtown", takes a lot of power away from the city council. Should the economy continue to sour, and the developer decides to delay building, the city would be stuck not being able to do anything about it for as much as 20 years.
Edgerton brought up the example of how the city council agreed to take part in WRCOG's 50% TUMF reduction, and ultimately got on the hook for having to owe $2.4 million to WRCOG. "I don't want to see this council rushing into another agreement like we did with the TUMF", he explained.
|Conceptual illustration of Menifee Town Center|
Jeff Dinkin, a managing partner with Regent Properties, spent great lengths showcasing the plan's facets, putting particular emphasis on a new civic center, which would include a City Hall and a Superior Courthouse. California's Administrative Office of the Courts is looking to build a new courthouse to replace the existing one in Hemet. Both Hemet and Menifee are frontrunners in landing the new courthouse which could possibly remain in operation for one-hundred years, and generate lots of new business for the city.
Dinkin effectively threatened the council, "I don't want to have to call the courthouse tomorrow and tell them the city council is divided on this" he said. "Frankly, you can kiss this courthouse goodbye!"
Edgerton took on a more aggressive tone in response, "Do not tell the courthouse that this council is divided! We are united on bringing a courthouse to Menifee!" explaining that the differences of opinion lay in other matters.
The issue of increased traffic this development would create wasn't raised at all by the council, particularly because councilmembers already knew the developer was well-prepared to answer that question. Instead, the traffic issue was raised by the audience.
Anne Pica explained that while she thinks a new downtown would be nice for Menifee, that now is not the time. "We need to take care of flooded streets", she said. "What good is having a downtown Menifee, when you can't even get to it?"
Kuenzi argued that the city can't build new bridges and widen roads without money, and that this new development will generate the money the City needs. Dinkin showed a presentation that Menifee Town Center is expected to earn $1,359,000.00 a year in net revenue for the city. John Denver added, "This will be our biggest funder for the traffic problem."
In the end, the council was actually stuck on how to proceed. There were arguments on whether to send this back to the Planning Commission, or to have the city council continue hashing this out.
Twyman wondered if the Planning Commission had actually been confused by the council's desire to attract a courthouse. "When we passed a unanimous resolution to attract the new Superior Court, I think the Planning Commission felt obligated to approve this plan", he noted, which lent credence to handing the plan back to the Commission.
However, Kuenzi was adamant that this plan rests with the city council and suggested a motion to instead establish an ad hoc committee consisting of two city councilmembers to work with the developer to address specific concerns, and then bring the matter back to the council on January 18th. The motion passed, and that's where this stands now.
Edgerton appointed Fuhrman and Twyman to that ad hoc committee.