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8 Hours Later, City Won't Rezone Nissan Site

Marathon meeting ends after 3 a.m. with City Council unwilling to give up on the idea a dealer—and the tax revenue it would bring—will never come to Rancho Santa Margarita.

Council members listen to Joe Daichendt's case for rezoning the former Family Nissan site. Credit/Martin Henderson
Council members listen to Joe Daichendt's case for rezoning the former Family Nissan site. Credit/Martin Henderson

By Martin Henderson

Long story short, the City voted to keep the zoning of the former Family Nissan auto dealership just the way it is. 

The longest city council meeting in Rancho Santa Margarita history finally broke up at 3:15 a.m. on Thursday morning, more than eight hours after Mayor Carol Gamble dropped the gavel on its 7 p.m. start.

The meeting had a little bit of everything. There was sharp questioning, sharp answers and sharp opinions. There were pointed comments no fewer than a half-dozen times.
 
But in the end, the council voted 3-1 to retain the zoning that exists for auto related uses. Jesse Petrilla had the dissenting vote. Steve Baric was absent because of an illness. 


Having gone through 1,500 pages of evidence supporting the rezoning and opposing the rezoning—City Staff recommended opposition to the rezoning request by Theory R Properties to Commercial-General—Gamble, Tony Beall and Brad McGirr came to the same conclusion. With the country still not fully recovered from the recession and brighter days apparently ahead, they were unwilling to scrap the master plan envisioned by Richard Reese, who designed the community. 

McGirr said he might in two years look back and see the Theory R team was correct, but the recovery needed to play out—which was the recommendation of The London Group the city's expert who studied the viability of the site to remain an Auto Zone.

The strong recovery by auto dealers in Rancho Santa Margarita—Honda, Ford and Toyota—factored into McGirr's decision. And, he said, if the Auto Zone Overlay wasn't right for the site, which has been named Rancho Canyon, he wasn't sure what the best use for the site was. The prevailing theory from the dais was that it wasn't with a 24 Hour Fitness as the anchor tenant.

"When I weigh the numbers, the community is better served having an auto center," McGirr said. "I think it's something we need to give time to."

All agreed, including Theory R principal Joe Daichendt, the best use for the site is an auto dealership. 

Daichendt and his team tried to prove Theory R made a legitimate effort to market the site to auto dealers and manufacturers, and that no one was coming. And no one is coming. Ever. 

But late in the meeting, Gamble held up an iPad with the website of Theory R's marketing man, Jay Larue, and pointed out the Rancho Canyon site wasn't even listed—either as a site for an auto dealer or a retailer. 

There was much discussion, too, about Daichendt's designs early on to rezone the property and his "calculated risk" of purchasing the dealership site knowing it wasn't zoned for commercial uses. 

Adding some difficulty to Daichendt's argument was a purchase offer made on the site by Bob Carmendy, general manager and partner of RSM Honda, the Rancho Canyon neighbor to the east. Daichendt dismissed that offer as "disingenuous." Beall also mentioned interest from Lotus, though its broker died suddenly which stalled the dialogue.

Both Beall and Gamble expressed concern over Theory R's litigious nature, as well. Its attorney has sent three letters threatening to sue the city if it didn't provide the rezoning Theory R desired. At one point, Beall held up a thick stack of papers that constituted the letters and the attachments sent to the city with the threats. 

Theory R representatives responded  it was merely protecting its interests.

Afterward, Daichendt was noncommittal about whether Theory R would pursue legal action against the City, but said he'd like to sleep on it. 

At 3:15 a.m., who could blame him.

TELL US IN THE COMMENTS: Do you agree that holding out for an auto dealer is in the best long-term interests of the City? 
RSM Family January 15, 2014 at 07:36 PM
Hmmm...curious about those campaign donations....I took a look. Biggest contributor to Beall's 2012 campaign...Theory R, and a donation from their realtor Jay LaRue too...None from Carmendy. Guess Beall can't be bought! Bet if he is recalled Baric and Petrilla will be too...Will start looking for money there...
Shawn Gordon January 15, 2014 at 07:44 PM
Lena. Costco has been in the works for ages and is apparently getting close but the Nissan site is about half the size that they need. I think the spot is over there near Antonio and Bievenidos, but I could be wrong. Baric and Petrilla aren't running again, Petrilla is running for Assembly, so no point in trying to recall them. Beall has done a good job for the city. Thanks for taking a look, it's always interesting to see where the money comes from.
Robert Templeton January 16, 2014 at 05:54 PM
Hi RSM Family - interesting research on Beall integrity. Thanks for doing that homework. I wonder about the others? Regarding your earlier post there is no need for the City Council to change the zoning to fix a speculative developer's mess who wants to screw us. Theory R has HAD an offer for months to put a car dealer in there and confessed in both the CC & PC meetings they never even answered the offer!
Martin Henderson January 17, 2014 at 11:06 AM
I suspect Costco will be the tenant at Chiquita Ridge when that project is completed, but first a sports park must be built with funds from the City—the same funds that are generated by sales tax from properties such as the Nissan site (where an auto dealer would provide significantly more revenue than Theory R's proposal at this time).
Glenn Acosta January 17, 2014 at 12:34 PM
I also believe that Chiquita Ridge is the best location for a Costco. I think the city can pitch that fact there aren't any gasoline stations for a mile or two in either direction, allowing Costco to construct a super large gas station to enhance their revenue stream and have it be an additional draw for customers. As I stated in the last election cycle, Costco can provide sufficient tax revenue to help finance the construction of sports parks. Also, the city should try to amend the agreement to allow for concurrent development - develop the property to get tax revenue to finance bonds while, at the same time, build sports parks in a phased fashion (as money allows).

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