BY DAVID JAMES HEISS

Record Gazette

The Banning Pointe project proposed across the street from the Sun Lakes Country Club and adjacent to The Lakes Assisted Living facility generated concerns from residents and community organizations like homeowners associations as locals become more aware of details about a development pitched nearly two years ago.

Community Development Director Adam Rush showed a slide of a proposed warehouse for the Banning Pointe development, the size of which drew rumblings of shock and surprise from visitors in attendance at the Oct. 19 planning commission meeting.

It is just part of a development that also includes retail components.

Community Development Director Adam Rush said that there were no new environmental impacts to report that had not already been disclosed when previous site plans were approved for that development area.

The audience scoffed at a comment by Jagger Everett, director of development for Phoenix-based real estate developer Creation RE/PE when he told the planning commission that “There was a lot of consideration given to this plan in terms of being sensitive to surrounding uses.”

Everett pointed out that his team limited the trucking traffic to the west of the project, as to limit interference with traffic around the main entrances for Sun Lakes Country Club.

Commissioner David Lopez requested more information on the lengths of trucks, and their ability to turn without impacting the amount of cars behind them.

Commissioner Richard Krick felt there should be a separate lane on Sun Lakes Village Drive for trucks to sit and queue up in, so they don’t end up doing so on Sun Lakes Boulevard and causing issues with general vehicular traffic.

Everett said his firm would be happy to address a dedicated queueing lane as part of the site plan.

“We agree there are a number of solutions to solving the traffic issue there,” he said. “We think the additional lane in the Sun Lakes Village Drive is definitely something that could be accommodated. We also feel that the left turn lane, the deceleration lane, could be extended,” in addition to more than 2,000 feet of internal truck queueing lanes within the project going counterclockwise around the proposed warehouse site.

Everett’s firm’s representatives said it was unlikely there would be more than five to 10 trucks in and around the site at any given time.

The developer was asked to address environmental sustainability measures and the potential for competitive wages, particularly to benefit marginalized residents of Banning.

Everett said that the project in its entirety should produce 762 full-time equivalent positions; the project will have electric vehicle charging stations and exercise green construction options.

While no occupant has been specified, “typically” jobs in similar developments pay above minimum wage, according to the developer’s representatives.

Fire Marshal Paul Lindley asked the developer to ensure sufficient emergency vehicle access.

Scores of mostly Sun Lakes residents lined up to address concerns during a public comment period.

When former city councilman George Moyer asked the planning commission as to whether or not a 600,000 square-foot warehouse was in the plans presented to the commission, he was told that the land use intentions were the same as what was being presented on Oct. 19.

Community Development director Rush explained that at the time a specific site plan, as was being discussed at that evening’s planning commission, was not available, though explained that what had been originally pitched was a much larger 877,000 square-foot industrial complex that was previously approved for the specific plan.

Planning commissioners admitted they were not shown the specific plan that drew scores of concerned citizens to their meeting, though the commission was aware of at least 800,000 square feet of buildings (not in a single edifice).

“This is nowhere near what these people came to Sun Lakes and sold us on” a couple years earlier, Moyer said.

One Sun Lakes resident pointed out that a segment of Highland Springs Boulevard for traffic to turn left onto the freeway could easily be clogged up with a single semitruck, and noted that the area being developed would be surrounded by assisted living residents and retirees — not necessarily the ones who would line up for job applications, saying “We come here for peace and quiet, we come here to retire,” and pointing to the project layout being projected overhead, “That is the complete opposite” of why people come to live at Sun Lakes Country Club.

Resident Sheri Flynn cited groups that evaluated an October 2020 environmental impact report, claiming that the EIR was “wholly inadequate” and “fails to comply with CEQA,” and said that the city is delaying discussion of air quality on health impacts, particularly on vulnerable senior populations.

Community Development director Rush explained that the city staff had previously accepted an environmental impact report that had been certified, and that the project is consistent with what was previously approved.

“That is not saying there are no impacts at all,” Rush clarified. “What that is saying is that we have analyzed and disclosed all of the impacts, and that it is not required for this project to do any additional work,” and that concerns regarding air quality, noise and environmental factors had been responded to “and incorporated into a final environmental report that was presented to the council. This project has done a health risk assessment and done an updated air quality report, and there are no new significant impacts,” Rush said. “Staff is satisfied that all environmental work has been done in excess of what is absolutely required.”

David Kealy of Sun Lakes Country Club pointed out that additional traffic lights will have to be added near their front gates, and expressed concern that there was not enough space on Sun Lakes Boulevard to add truck turning lanes, which will impact vehicular access to the retirement community, and make the area more dangerous for golf cart drivers.

Members of the public spoke for nearly two hours, offering their concerns to the commission.

Commissioner David Lopez said “This project has really changed from what was originally pitched to us. We had approved a business park, not a mega warehouse. I really do think we need to consider what we are looking at, and go back to the drawing board.”

His remarks drew a round of applause.

Commissioner Scott Brosious was curious as to what response times were for emergency vehicles navigating Highland Springs traffic, but those statistics were not available at the meeting, though Public Works Director Art Vela noted that such stats were not “typically” considered when the city conducts traffic studies.

At the Nov. 2 San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital’s board of directors meeting, director Howard Katz brought up the warehouse topic to his colleagues, pointing out that all four lanes of traffic along Highland Springs Boulevard could be clogged up when an emergency vehicle needs to get through, and indicated that situations could worsen if increased truck traffic were added to the mix.

Commissioner Richard Krick asked city staff as to whether traffic lights between the hospital to Sun Lakes Country Club — five stop lights altogether, according to his count — be equipped with apparatus that allows public safety vehicles to control traffic lights; Public Works director Vela seemed to believe it was possible to condition the project to ensure the developer paid to have such apparatus installed.

Josh Zemon, managing principal of Creation RE+PE, said his firm would look into ensuring to the best of his firm’s ability, that they would look into installing appropriate technology as long as the involved agencies would allow them to do so.

“We value the relationship we built with your city over the last two years and we’re excited; from our team’s perspective we thought we went through all the proper channels; I think there’s a disconnect between perception of what this project will generate in terms of traffic and pollution, and facts,” Zemon said. “We’re happy to take another look. We believe in the project, we believe in the community, and we’re happy to take all of these comments into account and work with city staff to come up with clear, more articulate answers that will hopefully satisfy the community,” saying that he believed in the concept’s design, and that the “benefits outweigh the potential detriments” as invoked by the public.

Zemon indicated that his firm is open to reviewing the suggestions set forth by the community.

Commissioner Lopez motioned to bring the whole project back to the drawing board.

Commissioner Krick clarified that the motion was to continue the item to a date to be determined.

Lopez wanted to “shrink the building down.”

City Attorney Maricela Marroquin said that the zoning allows for the use that was being presented, though “There are still findings the commission would have to make in order to approve the design review,” and the question comes down to whether those findings could be made, or if the commission needs further information related to the project. “It would be appropriate to get additional study if you don’t feel you’re prepared tonight to make a decision,” she advised.

Community Development Director Rush explained that the staff recommended approval since the “use is consistent with the zoning of the specific plan and the land use of the specific plan,” and pointed out that “the specific plan, because it did not have a actual site plan — as most specific plans do not — does not get down to the granular detail of the configuration of the buildings, whether it’s one building or 10 buildings; the internal circulation” all comes later as part of the design review.

Commissioner Marco Santana felt that the commission should meet and come up with a document in which all of the items brought up by the public were addressed, which Creation managing partner Zemon agreed with.

Planning Commission Chairman Eric Shaw said that a continuation of the item would not change the specific plan or the zoning. “It would just change the specific design review elements.”

The commission voted unanimously to continue the item until another date in a couple of months.

Following the meeting, Creation RE+PE’s managing principal Zemon offered his company’s reactions to what took place at the planning commission’s meeting.

“Our site plan has remained consistent throughout the entitlement process,” he insisted. “We have never modified or changed the site plan,” explaining that the plan all along was to have a warehouse building located behind retail outlets along Sun Lakes Boulevard, and that the specific plan adopted in late 2020 did not include a site plan, which Community Development Director Adam Rush noted as being typical of specific plan amendments, though it did include the land use categories highlighted in the existing site plan.

His firm has conducted traffic impact analyses and trip generation reports.

“There’s a perception that there will hundreds of large trucks clogging up the public right of way; when you look at the report, there’s literally 10 to 15 trucks per hour and less during peak hours,” Zemon says.

“We remain extremely interested and highly focused on delivering a high quality project in Banning,” he says. “We’re not a developer who has no regard for the community. This has been a collaborative process with the city, and we’re excited about investing in Banning and doing what’s right for the community in a tactful manner. We’re not deaf to what the community is saying. We are working closely with the city to improve the site plan and add elements to prevent bottlenecks and address their concerns.”

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at [email protected], and messages may be left at (951) 849-4586 x114.

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