A closer look will be taken at potential traffic impacts some allege a proposed 112-unit apartment complex would have on a Murrieta neighborhood.
Until that deeper study is done, the Murrieta Planning Commission unanimously agreed Wednesday night to delay approval of the project that Golden Eagle Properties, LLC of Irvine is seeking to build on the northeast side of Murrieta Hot Springs Road just past Via Princesa.
The 3-0 vote—Planning Commission Chair Anthony Casadonte and Commissioner Gregory Goodman were absent—came after nearly four hours of discussion and several public comments.
While residents of the senior citizen mobile home park off Via Princesa told commissioners their concerns about the 7.47-acre project had been addressed by the developer, residents just to the north of the proposed complex gave a differing opinion.
“Imagine a dam that is already leaking,” said resident Josh Bergere. “If you add just a little bit more water, the results can be catastrophic.”
Bergere used the scenario to illustrate what he described as too many drivers already using the neighborhood directly northeast of the project site as a thoroughfare to avoid traffic at the Murrieta Hot Springs Road/Winchester Road intersection. Adding the residents of the apartment complex would be the tipping point, he said.
“The city has a duty to enforce this (traffic study) to make sure that we are safe,” Bergere said, noting that at least one dog has been hit by a car. “...It might sound silly to some but that could be a kid.”
Bergere was not the only resident who spoke in opposition to the potential traffic effects.
Fred Moreno, who lives on Clearbrook Drive at a three-way stop with Branwin Street, alluded to a previous traffic study done by the city that showed 4,700 car trips are made daily through the neighborhood.
“There have been days when I have actually had to play chicken to get out of my driveway,” Moreno said. “This has created a dangerous situation that will surely lead to a fatal accident if it persists.”
After what they called many years of back and forth with the city trying to resolve the traffic issue, many of the residents of the neighborhood, which includes the Ridgegate and The Preserve housing tracts, have come together to form Murrieta Community Values Organization. With money raised through yards sales and other efforts, the group hired an attorney, who also spoke during Wednesday’s hearing.
Attorney Everett DeLano questioned the city’s attempt to adopt a report stating there would be less than significant traffic impacts in lieu of conducting a full environmental impact report. He also said the 20-day public review period for the city’s 1,000-page report that it did conduct was not enough.
“This is a time for you to at least say no right now,” DeLano said.
When representatives for Golden Eagle Properties had their chance to speak, they explained that they had made an effort to meet with surrounding neighbors. One of those meetings had resulted in them agreeing to change a Clearbrook Drive entrance to the project and make that gate for emergency access only.
Residents would only be able come and go from the complex from a main entrance on Murrieta Hot Springs Road. Right- and left-turn pockets would be constructed as part of the project, and the intersection at Via Princesa and Murrieta Hot Springs Road would be widened to accommodate u-turns for those exiting the grounds but wishing to travel east.
City Engineer Bob Moehling also said widening of that section of Murrieta Hot Springs Road to six lanes was set to begin within the next 18 months.
But because the project calls for the city—first the Planning Commission and then City Council—to sign off on a general plan amendment changing the zoning for 1.05 acres of park and open space to multifamily residential, Commissioner Jeff Kirshberg was the first to recommend a further study into the potential traffic impacts.
“That is not what we were planning before; we were planning 96 units,” Kirshberg said.
While 6.42 acres of the project site are already zoned in the city’s General Plan to accommodate 10 to 15 multifamily units per acre, the zone change for the smaller portion would allow Golden Eagle Properties to construct 112 units.
“I’m not confident I can say it is not a significant impact on traffic,” Kirshberg said. “Maybe we want to look further into that.”
The traffic study is expected to take about three weeks, according to City Planner Cynthia Kinser, putting the next hearing on the project on the Planning Commission’s Nov. 13 agenda.
If approved at that time, the proposal would then need to go before City Council for final approval.