Baker Ranch

Plans for Baker Ranch, a large proposed residential community in Lake Forest, were received warmly by the Planning Commission at its regularly scheduled Thursday evening meeting.

All five commissioners pronounced themselves pleased with the tentative design, which showed some details of the proposed residential and mixed-use community that would comprise about 25 acres of park space and up to 2,400 homes.

The property that is being proposed for development is 386 acres in northwestern Lake Forest, bounded generally on the north by the 241 toll road, Bake Parkway to the east, Commercentre Drive to the south and the city limit to the west.

The main access to the community would be from the unfinished Alton Parkway extension, which is being constructed to connect the road in Irvine to its counterpart in Foothill Ranch.

Bob Yoder, division president of Shea Homes, emphasized the tentative nature of the sketches he presented.

Even the logo, he said, could be changed before the project is finalized, he said.

Commissioners asked Yoder for additional details about traffic patterns, water retention and—in the wake of the recent vote by the Saddleback Valley Unified School District school board to close Aliso Elementary School—where the children living in the community would attend school.

Although the site could handle an elementary school, Saddleback Valley Unified representatives have said that it does not want a school built there, citing the district’s declining enrollment trend, Yoder said.

“It’s not going to happen,” he said.

Commissioner Tim Hughes called the proposed plans “neat,” while Commissioner Terry Anderson also lauded Yoder for the presentation.

“I really like what I’m seeing you guys coming up with here,” Anderson said.

Explaining that Lake Forest residents have expressed interest in addition public park space, Anderson asked Yoder to reconsider the high number of community-only parks and up the public park acreage.

Anderson, referring to the city’s five-year strategic planning meeting in March where he pushed the notion of trying to attract high-end development to Lake Forest, said he hoped Baker Ranch could be part of that effort to make Lake Forest more upscale.

“Your parcel sits in a really critical site in the community,” Anderson said, calling it a “bridge” between the older and newer areas of the city.

“We look forward to seeing the next phase” of the plan’s development, Commission Chairman Jerry Zechmeister said.

Yoder spent much of the presentation focusing on the planned development’s parks, which he said would be built so each would be within a short walk of everyone living in the community.

A fitness center isn’t in the current plans because of the emphasis on outdoor activities at the parks, but it could eventually be added, he said.

The development would be built in two major phases, he proposed.

In the first phrase, homes could be built in as many as seven smaller communities and range in price from $300,000 to $700,000, he said.

The size of the lots on the conceptual plans Yoder presented at the meeting range from about 1,800 square feet to 3,000 square feet, he said. 

Another part of the plan that remains undecided is how the city’s affordable-housing quota will be met. 

One option is to deed a six-acre portion of the land to the city, where it would construct that housing, Yoder said.

According to Lake Forest city staffers, the environmental review of the plans recently got under way.

No members of the public spoke at the meeting about the planned development.

What do you think about the plans for Baker Ranch?