Highland Waives Fire Safety Fee To Allow 3-Story Greenspot Crossings Development

The Highland City Council earlier this month waived a key safety provision normally applied to developers seeking permission to build structures of three stories or higher in the 18.89 square mile city of 55,529 population, letting TREH Partners avoid the payment of over half of a million dollars a year for the next several years to ensure adequate fire protection existed at the 200-residential unit/nine-store mixed use project until tax revenue from the completed project became available to the city.
TREH Partners has done work in Highland previously, having built the shopping center anchored by Lowe’s Hardware located at 27847 Greenspot Road, i.e., on the south side of Greenspot. Records indicate that TREH still owns that shopping center, and is seeing a return on its investment and development of that project by its leasing of the Lowe’s Hardware.
The project approved unanimously by the four city council members who were present, Mayor Penny Lilburn  Councilmen Larry McCallon and John Timmer, and Councilwoman Anaeli Solano, fits within the Greenspot Specific Plan Area, which was defined and ratified by a previous city council in 2013, falling within the district locally referred to as the Golden Triangle, roughly 104 acres on the north side of Greenspot Road east of State Route 210.
The project approved on June Tuesday June 8, known as Greenspot Crossings, is the second development proposal given clearance under the Greenspot Specific Plan, the first being a 200-unit townhouse development by Rexco at the southeast extreme of the specific plan area, which was given go-ahead by the city council in September 2020.
The 73.4-acre Greenspot Crossings project is divided into a 39.7-acre commercial component near the northeast corner of Greenspot and SR-210 and a 33.7-acre residential development adjacent to and northeast of the shopping center. The project was revamped from one that originally called for a 43.6-acre commercial component and a 29.8 acres devoted to residential use.
A mitigation agreement was approved in 2020. TREH Partners requested the number of acres for housing go up by 3.9 acres from original plans, and the amount of commercial land go down by that much to adjust for demand.
The commercial element consists of some 85,316 square feet of commercial space, anchored by a 37,000 square foot store; what is slated to be a 11,877-square-foot, eight-pump gas station/convenience mart with a car wash; a 19,000-square-foot store; a 6,000-square-foot store; a 5,600-square-foot store; three 2,500-to-3,000-square-foot stores, at least one of which is to have a drive-through; and a 2,024-square-foot store. The commercial center is to include two outdoor plazas and 362 parking stalls.
The 200-unit residential complex will be made up of four types of dwelling units, those being two-story single-family town homes and two-story studios along with 14 multi-family buildings that involve two-story condominiums and three-story apartments. In addition, there is to be a clubhouse and fitness center, a swimming pool, a wading pool, an outdoor kids zone with artificial turf, a dog park, a basketball half-court and a pickleball court. There are to be a total 380 parking spaces on the residential side of the development, including attached garages and 142 open spaces.
The council signed off on a design review for the project, a conditional use permit, tentative parcel maps, signage permits and alcohol sales licensing in giving the project approval.
In its approval, the city council adjusted the boundaries of the Highland Marketplace planning area and they went along with eliminating the village paseo from the Residential Village, as well as eliminating the open space for studio units.
The Highland Planning Commission at its May 18 meeting voted to recommend that the city council approve the project pursuant to the Greenspot Specific Plan. The planning commission called for conditions of approval inherent in the specific plan, which included dual requirements that TREH Partners fund the full cost of the fire department employing a firefighter on the its ladder truck until such time as the revenues to be generated from the project can cover that cost. The combined cost of the firefighter and equipage of the ladder truck ran to $550,000 per year.
According to Highland Community Development Director Lawrence Mainez, the Greenspot Specific Plan requires the provision of the ladder truck capability when a development project entails a three-story building. Optimal fire protection for buildings three stories or higher cannot be provided without a ladder truck, according to the fire department.
TREH Partners Principal Tom Robinson, however, pleaded financial hardship, telling the four members of the city council who were present on June 8 that the added expense of $1.1 million over two years or $1.65 million over three years would increase the Greenspot Crossings’ early phase cost and create a lack of profitability that would prevent the company from securing financing to proceed. He requested that the city remove the conditions of approval relating to ensuring that the city be reimbursed for its costs in having the personnel and equipment to maintain the ladder truck.
Robinson pointed out that the city already has an arrangement with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians by which some revenue from the casino the tribe runs is diverted to the city to ensure that it has a ladder truck on standby. He asked, essentially, that TREH Partners be permitted to piggyback on the service already defrayed by San Manuel. He said if the city insisted on adhering to the specific plan requirement, TREH would reduce the three story structures to two stories, but would not reduce the number of residential units, instead spreading them over a larger portion of the project footprint, and thereby eliminating or radically reducing open space.
Councilman John Timmer, a retired firefighter, noted the importance of having the ladder truck available. When he indicated that he was willing to risk allowing the project to proceed without TREH Partners having to cover the cost of outfitting and manning the ladder truck, the rest of the council went along. Timmer said the city was taking a risk. “If, for whatever reason, we cancel it [the arrangement with San Manuel to provide the ladder truck], we, as a city, are going to have to make significant decisions on service reductions because we will have to provide a ladder truck. We have to be aware of that, even if it is highly unlikely.”
Timmer motioned that the conditions of approval relating to the ladder truck be suspended, and the Greenspot Crossings project be approved. Councilman Larry McCallon seconded the motion, and the vote was passed unanimously, with the support of Lilburn and Solano.
-Mark Gutglueck

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