Planners receptive to landowner’s town square vision
By Karen Brainard
Picture a town square with people strolling about, visiting with each other or dining at sidewalk cafes, and children fishing at a nearby pond. That’s a vision that Jim Hagey has for Ramona.
“I’ve been thinking about this for many years and I wanted to get your take on it,” Hagey told the Ramona Community Planing Group at its Jan. 9 meeting.
Hagey owns 20 acres behind the Stater Bros. shopping center in the 1600 block of Main Street. His property is bordered by Ramona, H and 16th streets.
He bought the land 14 years ago with ideas for a walkable community consisting of residential and retail, but numerous issues have impeded the development. Now, he said, any homes he built would have to sell for at least $450,000, and because he believes that price won’t sell, he is focusing on retail.
“We just want to make a place where people want to come,” he said. “I do believe a town square would be a terrific thing for Ramona.”
He would like at least six acres set aside for a town square that would highlight the pond on the site known as Elliott Pond. That would leave 14 acres in the southern section of the property for the possible development of a big box store such as a Target or Trader Joe’s or a retail anchor store. Hagey said he would need a large retailer on his property to make the town square concept viable.
Central to Hagey’s town square would be about four sidewalk cafes with tables outside so patrons could order food from the different restaurants but sit together. He does not want any large restaurant chains unless they could work with his model. The pond would be visible in the distance when sitting outside the cafes, he said.
A soda fountain, wine bar, brew pub and art gallery are other ideas he has for the town square, along with activities such as outdoor plays, bowling, free Wi-Fi, feeding ducks and fishing. Hagey said he wants activities for all ages and has ideas that fill 28 pages, single-spaced. He would also like to build a tower where people could walk up and look over Ramona.
The property owner said he has talked to teenagers who tell him they need a place to meet, instead of hanging out in fast food parking lots or creek beds.
He has not totally eliminated residential, as he believes it’s important to have people living near stores and restaurants. One idea is to have about 10 townhouse units at the town square.
Hagey wants to keep Elliott Pond rural-looking with its cattails, and the development to fit in with Ramona.
“My ideas have not come from me; they’ve come from Ramona,” he said.
According to Hagey, his property is zoned for a mixed use development.
Planners were receptive to the ideas and applauded Hagey for his efforts but posed a few possible challenges.
Carl Hickman said the pond that was developed in Eastlake in Chula Vista was great for the first 10 years but then began to have biological issues and has become an eyesore.
Hagey noted that Elliott Pond was originally created to raise turtles. The pond was dug in 1944, according to a Ramona Sentinel article that year.
Planner Scotty Ensign pointed out that in wet weather the pond floods onto Ramona Street and Hagey would probably have to work with the county to fix that.
Parking was also discussed and how to incorporate it so that it would not be highly visible in front of retail, which does not fit in with the walkable community model.
“We want this as walkable as possible and make it look like 1940,” Hagey said.
He told the Sentinel his next step will be to talk to real estate brokers about a retail anchor or big box store.
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