Dove Canyon Plaza

Dove Canyon Plaza is a nine-acre site located off of Dove Canyon Drive.  It’s General Plan designation is Neighborhood Commercial, and it has operated as a retail commercial center since 1991.  The Center consists of approximately 99,000 square feet of gross leasable commercial/retail space.

The property was sold by Dove, LLC to Raintree Investment Corp. (RIC) in January 2016.   RIC has publicly indicated that they would like to repurpose the property, but given its current General Plan designation of Neighborhood Commercial, any effort to change the use on the site would require a Zone Change and several other planning and development entitlements.  

The City of Rancho Santa Margarita would like to stress that there have been no approvals given to the property owner nor any staff recommendations regarding the property owner’s desire to repurpose the property.  An initial submittal requesting a change in use from commercial to residential was received on July 24, 2019 from Raintree Investments/William Lyon Homes.  A webpage has been developed to provide up-to-date information regarding the proposal.

The City Council, Planning Commission, and City staff have been asked many questions by members of the community interested in the current status and future potential plans for the Dove Canyon Plaza property.  This Q & A is intended to answer the most frequently asked questions.  If you have additional questions, please contact  Martin McIntosh, Communications Lab at (949) 215-5539 x 106 martin@communicationslab.com for RainTree Investment Corporation/William Lyon Homes.

Dove Canyon Plaza Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the current Zoning for the property?

A: The property is currently zoned Neighborhood Commercial.

Q: When did the property owner acquire the property?

A:  County property records indicate that the property last sold on January 7, 2016.

Q: Did the City ask the current property owner to purchase the property?

A: No.  The City did not seek a buyer, did not contact any potential buyer, and took no part in this private party real estate transaction.

Q: Did the City ask the property owner to initiate a Zone Change or consider housing at the location?

A: No. 

Q: What actions has the property owner taken to lease the Plaza to businesses?

A:  The property owner made cosmetic renovations to the property in 2016 consisting of paint, new signage, and updated landscaping.  A new anchor tenant, Athlete’s Choice, joined the center in late 2017.  Any other leasing activity is between the property owner and tenants, to which the City is not a party.

Q: What is William Lyon Homes’ involvement in the property?

A: William Lyon Homes has indicated that they are partnering with the property owner to develop the property.  The City is not aware of the details related to, nor a party to, any arrangement between William Lyon Homes and the property owner.

Q: Has the property owner planned high-density housing for the site?

A: On July 24, 2019 the property owner submitted an application for 123 housing units at 15.0 dwelling units per acre which corresponds with the City’s medium density (11-18 dwelling units per acre) category.

Q: Has any application for a Zone Change or Housing Development Project been submitted to the City for the Dove Canyon Plaza property?

A: The owners of Dove Canyon Plaza with their partners/representatives at William Lyon Homes submitted plans to the City for a change in use from commercial to residential on July 24, 2019.  The City has created a webpage to allow for convenient public access to the application materials and for City staff to provide regular updates on the status of the application review.  The City is committed to conducting a very open and thorough review with public notification and input at various stages of the process.

Q: What does the review process entail? How long will the review last?

A: City staff reviews the application for completeness. Review for completeness can take up to 30 days. The application is deemed complete once the applicant provides all of the information required for City review of the proposal. After the application is deemed complete, the City initiates the environmental review process pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Depending on the environmental review issues present for a particular project, preparation of an environmental document can take three to five months. The environmental review document (such as an EIR) is subject to a separate public review period prior to the public hearings for the project.

During the Planning Commission meeting, the Commission will receive a presentation from staff, may ask questions of staff, will receive public comments, and will deliberate on the proposal. In the case of a Zone Change, the final decision rests with the City Council. The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the City Council to approve, approve with revisions, or deny the proposed Zone Change. Following Planning Commission review, a public hearing is held by the City Council, which follows the same procedures described for the Planning Commission public hearing.

Please note that the City cannot accurately answer how long the process with last as it is dependent upon how much time the applicant takes to respond to the City’s requests for additional information and to resubmit based upon our comments. However, it will take a minimum of 6-9 months and will be dependent on the quality and completeness of the applicant’s submittal(s).

Q: When will a public hearing be scheduled?

A: Following preparation and required public review of the environmental document, staff will prepare a recommendation for review by the Planning Commission. Typical recommendations include approve, approve with revisions, or deny. Staff issues a public hearing notice at least ten days before the scheduled public hearing. The notice is sent to all property owners within 300 feet of the subject property and printed in a newspaper of general circulation. The staff report is available for public review at least 48 hours prior to the public hearing, and the public hearing is open to the public.

Q: How can the public participate in the process?

A: There will be several opportunities for the public to participate in the process including the public hearings for the project at Planning Commission and City Council. Additionally, public input is a required component with preparation of the EIR.

Q: Has the City approved any Zone Change or other change in use for the Dove Canyon Plaza property?

A: No. There have been no approvals given.

Q: Has City staff made any recommendation on a potential Zone Change?  

A: No, the proposal is in the initial stages of review.  No recommendation has been made at this time.

Q: Is the City Council in favor of a Zone Change and/or housing at that location?

A: The City Council has not taken a position regarding a zone change and/or housing at that location.  It would be improper for the City Council to pre-judge a proposed development project.  To do so could expose the City to legal challenge.  A property owner and all interested members of the public (both in favor and against) are legally entitled to due process, an opportunity to be heard, and a fair hearing.

Q: I heard that staff has met with the property owner.  What was the purpose of those meetings?

A: Property owners may request to meet with City staff to discuss potential applications for changes in use.  The purpose of these meetings is to help the property owner understand the process and regulations regarding any change in use.  In the case of the Dove Canyon Plaza property, staff provided information to the property owner and advised the property owner to conduct outreach to the surrounding community regarding any potential future plans they may have.  On July 24, 2019 a meeting took place at the time of the application submittal.

Q: What is the process for a Zone Change and Development Application?

A: The process for a Zone Change is prescribed by Section 9.07.070 of the Rancho Santa Margarita Municipal Code.  A flow-chart illustrating the process is available below:

Zoning Change Process Flowchart

Zoning Change Process Flow Chart

In summary, the Zone Change process can be initiated for a specific property by the City or the property owner.  In the case of a privately-initiated Zone Change, the process begins when an application is submitted to the Development Services Department.  The application is public information and may be viewed by members of the public.  City staff reviews the application for completeness.  Review for completeness can take up to 30 days.  The application is deemed complete once the applicant provides all of the information required for City review of the proposal.  After the application is deemed complete, the City initiates the environmental review process pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  Depending on the environmental review issues present for a particular project, preparation of an environmental document can take three to five months.  The environmental review document (such as an EIR) is subject to a separate public review period prior to the public hearings for the project.  Following preparation and required public review of the environmental document, staff will prepare a recommendation for review by the Planning Commission.  Typical recommendations include approve, approve with revisions, or deny.  Staff issues a public hearing notice at least ten days before the scheduled public hearing.  The notice is sent to all property owners within 300 feet of the subject property and printed in a newspaper of general circulation.  The staff report is available for public review at least 48 hours prior to the public hearing, and the public hearing is open to the public.  During the Planning Commission meeting, the Commission will receive a presentation from staff, may ask questions of staff, will receive public comments, and will deliberate on the proposal. In the case of a Zone Change, the final decision rests with the City Council.  The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the City Council to approve, approve with revisions, or deny the proposed Zone Change.  Following Planning Commission review, a public hearing is held by the City Council, which follows the same procedures described for the Planning Commission public hearing.  

It is important to note that the Rancho Santa Margarita Municipal Code requires that the City Council make the following findings prior to approval of a Zone Change:

  1. That the proposed Zoning Code map amendment is consistent with the goals, policies, programs, and land uses of applicable elements of the General Plan;
  2. That the proposed Zoning Code map amendment will not adversely affect surrounding properties or the surrounding environment; and
  3. That the proposed Zoning Code map amendment promotes public health, safety, and general welfare and serves the goals and purposes of this Title.

Development applications, such as a site development permit, conditional use permit, or tentative tract map have similar prescribed processes in the Municipal Code.  In all cases, an application is submitted to the Development Services Department and evaluated based on the requirements of the Municipal Code (including but not limited to use restrictions, setbacks, height limits, and parking requirements). Following the evaluation, City staff presents the project to the Planning Commission at a public hearing where the Planning Commission will receive public comments, consider the project, and render a decision.

Q:  What is the process for approval of a Zone Change?

A:  The Planning Commission and City Council must each hold a public hearing for adoption of a Zone Change.  As the City’s legislative body, only the City Council can adopt amendments to the Zoning Code.

The Planning Commission plays an advisory role by holding a public hearing and making a recommendation to the City Council on any Zone Change.  Pursuant to State law, a recommendation for approval must be made by the affirmative vote of not less than a majority of the total membership of the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission is a five-member body; therefore, three affirmative votes are required to pass a recommendation to the City Council.  

Similarly, the City Council must hold a public hearing to consider a Zone Change.  The City Council may approve, modify, or disapprove the recommendation of the Planning Commission.  Any substantial modifications proposed by the City Council would be referred back to the Planning Commission for review.  Pursuant to State law, a Zone Change must be adopted by the affirmative vote of not less than a majority of the total membership of the City Council.  The City Council is a five-member body; therefore, three affirmative votes are required to adopt a Zone Change.

Q:  What is the vote requirement to approve a Zone Change?

A:  Pursuant to State law, a Zone Change must be adopted by the affirmative vote of not less than a majority of the total membership of the City Council.  The City Council is a five-member body; therefore, three affirmative votes are required to adopt a Zone Change.

 Q:  What is a public hearing?

A:  A public hearing is held during a regular public meeting of the City Council or Planning Commission and provides an opportunity for interested individuals to speak regarding the decision which is up for consideration.  The purpose of a public hearing is for decision makers to gather information which helps inform their decisions.

Advance notice of public hearings are provided at least ten calendar days before the hearing in several convenient locations.  In cases where the public hearing concerns a specific parcel or parcels of land, notices are mailed to all owners of real property, as shown on the last equalized assessment roll, within 300 feet of the boundaries of the subject property.  Additionally, notices are posted on the subject property and at three other public places within the City:  City Hall, Fire Station 45, and the Trabuco Canyon Water District Headquarters.  Additionally, public hearing notices are posted on the City’s website and in a local newspaper such as the Orange County Register or Coto de Caza News. 

Q: What factors will be considered now that an application has been submitted?

A:  Please see the answer above regarding the process for a Zone Change.  The Rancho Santa Margarita Municipal Code requires that the City Council make certain findings prior to approval of any application.  Additionally, the California Environmental Quality Act requires a thorough review of potential environmental impacts prior to the City Council rendering a decision on a project.

Q: How is a potential Zone Change request at this location different than the Zone Change request on Plano Trabuco?

A: The Dahlia Court property on Plano Trabuco originally contained a single-family residential home at the time of the City’s incorporation and was designated for residential use in the City’s original General Plan and Zoning documents.  The property was the subject of a General Plan Amendment and Zone Change in 2008 which changed the General Plan and Zoning to Neighborhood Commercial.  Based on market conditions at the time, the land use designation change from residential to commercial represented an opportunity to expand the existing Trabuco Marketplace. However, one of the limiting factors for connecting to the adjacent commercial development to the south is the grade difference between the two properties. In the end, the commercial project was never constructed and the property eventually was foreclosed upon and acquired by William Lyon Homes.   In 2014, William Lyon Homes applied for a General Plan Amendment, Zone Change, Specific Plan, Site Development Permit, and Vesting Tentative Tract Map to allow the development of 36 attached townhomes on the vacant 1.84-acre parcel.

Q: Can the State of California unilaterally change the zoning at that location?

A: No.  The City has an adopted Housing Element which is fully compliant with State law and has been certified by the State.  Only cities which do not adopt and maintain a fully compliant Housing Element are subject to sanctions by the State of California, up to and including the State gaining control of local land use decisions.

Q: What significance does the proposed bill SB 50 have on the location or RSM?

A:  SB 50 expands upon current Density Bonus Law to require the grant of an “equitable communities incentive” when a developer builds a multi-family project near transit or employment in exchange for constructing a specified percentage of units for very low, low-, or moderate-income households for qualifying residents. The Bill would require the City to grant certain density bonuses if a project meets certain criteria, including that the development is either a “transit-rich housing project” or a “job-rich housing project.” As currently defined by the legislature, no properties in Rancho Santa Margarita would qualify as “transit-rich” because the City is currently served by only one Bus Route, which does not meet the parameters defined in the bill. The term “job-rich” is defined in the legislation as an area identified by the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and the Office of Planning and Research (OPR) based on indicators such as proximity to jobs, high median incomes, and high-quality public schools. HCD and OPR have not yet identified areas which would be considered “job-rich." It is staff’s opinion that SB 50 would likely have a minimal effect on Rancho Santa Margarita due to the proposed criteria which developers would be required to meet to qualify for an “equitable communities incentive.” Further, as SB 50 did not pass in 2019 it became a 2-year bill and the city will continue to monitor its progress through the legislature.

Q: Why can’t the City simply prohibit any zone changes of any kind?

A:  The City’s Zoning Code allows property owners to initiate an amendment to the official zoning for a property.  A housing moratorium placed on a single property would very likely be considered a regulatory taking and would subject the City to legal action.  Further, a Citywide housing moratorium would violate the City’s Housing Element and expose the City to sanctions or litigation from the State of California, especially in light of recent discussions in Sacramento regarding housing, and recent litigation involving another Orange County city.  Moratoria, in general, have specific legal requirements which the City Council must follow.  Further, State law requires very specific findings when a moratorium is adopted. To make the required findings, the City Council must have evidence of a specific significant, quantifiable, direct, and unavoidable adverse impact to public health or safety and find that the moratorium is the only feasible alternative to mitigate or avoid such impact.

Q:  Wouldn’t the City benefit from increased tax revenue if the property is developed with high-density residential uses?

A:  The City only receives approximately $0.03 for each tax dollar paid on properties in the City - commercial or residential.  Accordingly, the City is not likely to benefit from a significant increase in property tax revenue if the property is developed with high-density residential uses.

 Q: What can the City do to support businesses at Dove Canyon Plaza?

A: The City’s strategy to support businesses citywide includes support of the local Chamber of Commerce and policies which seek to lessen the financial burdens on local businesses.  For example, the City does not require a business license; this practice saves businesses time and money because they do not have to apply for and pay fees related to a business license when opening, or on an annual basis as they do in many other cities.  Further, the City strives to make the process for opening a business as streamlined as possible by simplifying review of conditional use permits.

Q: Who can I contact if I have additional questions?

A:  Martin McIntosh, Communications Lab: 949-215-5539 x 106 martin@communicationslab.com for RainTree Investment Corporation/William Lyon Homes