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Commissioners Recommend Approval of Contested Apartment Complex

Following the Murrieta Planning Commission's approval of a 112-unit complex proposed for Murrieta Hot Springs Road, just east of Via Princesa, City Council will be tasked with the final decision.

This zoning map shows the location of the proposed complex. (City of Murrieta)
This zoning map shows the location of the proposed complex. (City of Murrieta)

Despite neighborhood traffic concerns, a developer’s plans to build a 112-unit apartment complex along Murrieta Hot Springs Road just east of Via Princesa are moving forward.

The Murrieta Planning Commission on Dec. 11 voted in favor of the 7.47-acre project proposed by Irvine-based Golden Eagle Multi-Family Properties, LLC.

Three of five commissioners—Ruthanne Taylor-Berger, Jeff Kirshberg and Steven DeGrave—were present during the meeting. They voted 3-0 to recommend the project for approval by Murrieta City Council.

Six-plus acres of the project area were already designated within the city’s General Plan for multi-family residential use. In order for the project to move forward, the developer requested a General Plan amendment as well as a zoning change for 1.05 acres that are zoned for parks and open space use.

The issue was not a new one for commissioners. In a previous meeting, they had heard from several residents of nearby neighborhoods who oppose the complex, mainly because they believe it will compound an existing traffic problem. The residents say there are already too many cars that pass through their neighborhood as a way to avoid the intersection at Winchester Road and Murrieta Hot Springs—an issue they first brought to the city through its Traffic Commission in 2005.

“Imagine a dam that is already leaking,” said resident Josh Bergere, during a previous meeting. “If you add just a little bit more water, the results can be catastrophic.”

Fred Moreno, who lives on Clearbrook Drive at a three-way stop with Branwin Street, called attention at the same meeting to a previous city traffic study 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.”

So commissioners had tabled their decision until a further traffic study was conducted by the developer. Those results were presented during the Dec. 11 meeting.

The traffic impact analysis revealed that the project would add approximately 149 car trips per day to those traveling north from Via Princesa to Clearbrook to reach Hunter Road at Winchester Road, Assistant City Planner Aaron Rintamaki wrote in a report prepared for commissioners. That would be about 3 percent of the 5,200 daily trips that already put the roadway segment at an unacceptable level of service, he wrote.

“The incremental increase is not considered a significant increase under CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act], and since the level of service is not expected to decrease to an unacceptable level, it was determined that the project will not cause a significant impact on this segment,” Rintamaki wrote.

He noted that planned improvements such as the widening of Murrieta Hot Springs Road between Margarita Road and Winchester Road are imminent in an effort to improve traffic flow in that section of town.

The developer has conceded to limit complex access from Clearbrook to emergency vehicles only, and will be charged with improving the intersection at Murrieta Hot Springs and Via Princesa to allow those exiting the complex to make u-turns.

As commissioners cast their votes, they took time to explain their decision-making process to concerned residents in attendance.

“Our charge is making sure it fits within the confines of the General Plan,” said Commissioner Steven DeGrave.

Commission Vice Chair Ruthanne Taylor-Berger said it was a difficult call to make, but that as a commissioner she has a certain box she is allowed to work in.

“I have got to look at the project based on a set of facts to analyze; we are here looking at the project to see if it meets the environmental guidelines,” Taylor-Berger said. “The applicant impacts are minuscule compared to the problem you are perceiving and talking about.”

Commissioner Jeff Kirshberg commended the residents for speaking up, and encouraged them to continue taking up the traffic matter with the appropriate city officials such as when it goes before City Council.

“But to put it all one developer, that is not fair,” Kirshberg said.

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Mike December 17, 2013 at 01:46 PM
Lets get more cars on MHS!
Janise December 18, 2013 at 12:12 PM
What a headache. Come on Murrieta, at least finish building sidewalks on MHS and Via Princessa for your pedestrians and a legitimate bus stop structure before moving on to something like this. There's a dangerous narrow dirt path along MHS, I never drive the right lane, for pedestrian safety. Hope the new apartments include side walks for pedestrians.
TSManning December 20, 2013 at 01:31 PM
"Sure there are problems but at this point its a lost cause to attempt a persistent effort to correct problems, therefore I give in and give up any chance of every solving any future problems as a result." And as a result of this lazy incubnent attitude the mood is set ... let's forget about what's next and think about as far ahead as one eye can see... Very dissapointed! Voters will remember this . I shall remind them if needed.

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