More multi-family housing pitched for vacant Rancho California Road land

Developer wants to build a second apartment complex on the northern half of acreage across the street from the Portofino Apartments.

Barton Buchalter has a vision for his acreage on Rancho California Road that doesn’t include a CVS, a taco shop and a dental office.

The Los Angeles-based developer wants to build multi-family housing on the property — the last piece of undeveloped land on Rancho Cal — instead of retail space, which, he believes, has become a dicey investment in today’s Amazon-dominated economy.

“Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world,” he said Wednesday night during a Temecula Planning Commission meeting to consider an apartment complex project slated for the southern half of his Rancho Cal acreage.

With more and more people using Amazon and other services to order goods online, it doesn’t make much sense, he said, to build retail spaces and wait around for small businesses to fill up the spots.

Buchalter said housing, in contrast, is a legitimate need in the area, where some nearby apartment complexes, such as Portofino, boast occupancy rates north of 95 percent.

“More retail not so sure,” he said.

Municipalities, however, generally prefer new retail over “rooftops” because retail and commercial enterprises generate tax dollars, which offsets the cost of providing services such as police and fire.

Buchalter has already shared his plans with the city for a second apartment complex — the commission voted Wednesday to approve plans for the 160-unit complex slated for the southern half of the property — and he has been told that he will have to pay for a financial analysis for the second complex, which should detail how development fees will cover the costs to the city associated with serving the new residents.

Before hitting the commission, the project for the southern half of the land was vetted by area residents who attended a community workshop last year and a commission subcommittee.

The feedback from those two groups led to the addition of a wrought iron fence that will provide a buffer between the apartment complex and the single-family neighborhoods nearby and landscaping along Rancho California.

To regulate the traffic the new complex will generate the developer will be paying around $300,000 to install a stop light in front of the entrance, which also will be used by Portofino residents to the north.

Commission Ron Guerriero said during the meeting what many Temecula residents are thinking after reading that — another stop light on that stretch of Rancho? — but his concerns were alleviated by city staffers who said the light will be included in the adaptive system that makes Rancho traffic a priority on that stretch.

This means platoons of cars will not be forced to stop for one car trying to make a turn on to Rancho.

Ahead of the vote, the commission heard from two residents: Wayne Hall, who spoke in favor of the project, and another, Michael Wiemer, who said the project may be great but it will further exacerbate the city’s already woeful traffic situation.

“It’s 300 more cars on the streets of our city,” he said, adding that he wanted the commission to think, as they drive around town dealing with various levels of congestion, “I helped cause this.”

The commissioners, in their comments, said the developer addressed the concerns of the community by adding the fence and the landscaping and that it appeared there was not widespread opposition to the plans.

“The room (council chambers) would be full if there were,” said Commissioner John Telesio.

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