While new plans for The Triangle commercial development in Murrieta were approved Tuesday, conflicting visions between the property owner and the majority of City Council remain.
Council voted 3-2, with Council members Randon Lane and Harry Ramos dissenting, to prohibit drive-thru fast food restaurants, gas stations and electronic freeway billboards if and when the long-awaited project is built.
“We should not settle for less than we believe we can be. Murrieta should demand quality,” said Mayor Rick Gibbs about the large 64-acre swath of land situated at the southern tip of the city, where Interstates 15 and 215 intersect.
What Council approved Tuesday was an amended specific plan for The Triangle. The plan also prohibits other food related drive-thrus such as coffee shops, as well as gaming clubs or casinos.
Permitted are small recycling facilities so long as they are not freestanding and are incorporated into a building; hotels but not motels; and automotive sales provided they are storefront only (not dealerships).
The dated specific plan was initially approved by the County of Riverside in 1990—prior to the City of Murrieta’s incorporation in 1991—as Murrieta Springs Mall. Then developer interest turned to Temecula and its Promenade mall.
Twenty-three years later and with renewed vision from the property owners—the Domenigoni family, whose roots in southwest Riverside County date back more than a century—amendments to the specific plan and city’s general plan were required in order for the project to meet current development codes.
Though it has been known during the last decade as The Triangle, Council’s vote on Tuesday officially renamed it that.
Reached Wednesday, Andy Domenigoni, the lead man on the project, said that while approval of the plan was a step in the right direction, it was unfair that some things were nixed.
“The development code says we can do this; there is a drive-thru Starbucks right across the street, down the street you can have a gas station. But some people don’t think we should be allowed to have that,” Domenigoni said. “Now is that fair? I don’t think it is fair.
“If the development code of the city said you couldn’t put those items in, I could see that, but if it is zoned for that and it is not bothering anybody in that zone, why should they have the right to pick and choose what goes in there? They are singling out this one project out of the whole city for what their vision is.”
Domenigoni accused Gibbs of “micromanaging” the Council to achieve his own goal for a high-end project.
“We never said it was going to be high-end, we said high quality,” Domenigoni said, noting that development of the project would be market driven and there were no guarantees about what mix of companies may ultimately end up there.
But Gibbs, who said he’d been working with the Domenigonis for eight years on the project, was adamant the Council was doing the right thing by its stated general plan goal of economic development.
“...Not once in those eight years did I ever hear fast food drive-thrus and gas stations until very recently,” Gibbs said. “There is plenty of petrol for sale within a quarter mile.”
Murrieta has the highest median income—more than $100,000—among neighboring cities, he added.
“The incomes we have are exactly what those high-end retailers and restauranteurs look for,” Gibbs said.
The new plan, according to a report the Domenigonis had prepared, would net approximately $2.9 million annually in tax revenue for the city. City staff figures, however, show a decrease of $1.7 million in annual revenue—from the original plan—due to less retail space.
From a total of 1.7 million square feet, the updated plan subtracts from the amount of retail square footage, adding more for office buildings—with approval to build one as high as 20 stories.
The new allotments are: 640,914 square feet for retail; 779,082 square feet for office; 148,000 square feet for hotel; 74,660 square feet for entertainment; and 125,258 square feet for restaurant.
Council’s approval also included grocery stores and convenience stores. The convenience stores must be incorporated into a primary or office building. As for warehouse retail stores, those were also allowed but on a case-by-case basis with prior approval from the city.
Council additionally agreed to allow non-food-related drive-thrus, such as banks or pharmacies.
Councilman Alan Long, who recalled that while he was growing up in Murrieta 35 years ago his family had to drive to Fallbrook to grocery shop, told Patch Wednesday he was not outright opposed to fast food drive-thrus at The Triangle—he just did not have enough details.
“Really what (Domenigoni) was asking for was a blank check to have 125,000 square feet of restaurants,” Long said.
Without development plans—which is the next step in the process and requires more hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council—Long said it was hard for him to envision.
“This was the first step of the whole project,” Long said. “He is just asking for entitlement rights, but without something to look at, without an elevation plan, really what he was asking for was a blank check. I can’t do that, not with this type of project.”
Long said he had expressed support for a drive-thru setback of 150 feet from Murrieta Hot Springs Road that had been proposed by the Domenigonis.
“If Andy comes back with the project and did all the things he said he would do I would be inclined to support that. I want to see something going on in The Triangle,” Long said.
But Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Bennett said Tuesday she had not seen anything new to convince her that fast food or coffee shop drive-thrus were a good fit for the project.
“And with the issue of billboards that is a Pandora’s box. We have already vetted that issue and made a determination by the current council,” said Bennett, referring to an ordinance that bars any new freeway billboards in the city.
As for Lane and Ramos, both said their reasoning for voting no Tuesday was that it placed unnecessary restraints on the Domenigonis’ ability to move forward.
“The word no has become a catchphrase around The Triangle,” Lane said.
And that is not good, he went on to say.
“You hear all the old stories about (what could have gone in there): the mall, the country western (theme park),” Lane said. “We’ve heard stories of an NFL stadium coming here, we’ve heard all sorts of stories...Unfortunately if we keep saying no we will eventually be begging to say yes.”
Lane also said he does not have anything against billboards within city limits.
Ramos said he had no problem with gas stations or fast food restaurants going in. For him, it came down to two things: “the free market and property rights.”
“They want to make money and that gives me a lot of comfort,” Ramos said. “I don’t believe they are going to bring any project to The Triangle that is going to diminish their ability to make money.”
What happens next, according to Domenigoni, is up for debate. The Council’s condition of approval now has to go through a 30-day challenge period, he said.
“For now, we go through the process and make sure that the entitlements are secured,” Domenigoni said. “At that point the family will decide what direction we go in. Do we do a development plan on the first phase, do we look for a partner, make it a co-venture? We have a lot of options on the table. So we are going to take some time and talk about it.”