Rancho Mirage will speed up review of home designs in Disney’s Cotino

An example design for a single-family home in Disney’s Cotino development in Rancho Mirage.As initial site work continues on Cotino, Disney’s development in Rancho Mirage that calls for hundreds of homes, a swimmable lagoon and an “Incredibles”-inspired clubhouse, the city council voted Thursday to speed up review of the project’s house designs.The changes include allowing some homebuilders to skip public hearings that are normally required.Cotino, also known as the Section 31 development, is slated to include a 24-acre “grand oasis” lagoon, a resort hotel and around 1,700 homes on land just east of Bob Hope Drive, between Frank Sinatra and Gerald Ford drives, and across from the entrance to Sunnylands Center and Gardens.The 618-acre development has been led by Arizona-based builder DMB Development LLC, and Disney joined as a partner early last year, announcing Cotino as its first Storyliving by Disney community. While a master plan won city approval in 2019, the council has approved pieces of the project, such as specific subdivisions, in recent months.City officials, who have lauded Cotino since it was first announced, say the design guidelines for single-family houses approved Thursday will allow the project to progress more efficiently, so that plans for every individual home no longer need to go through a lengthy review process.Site long eyed by developersCotino will offer a mix of homes, including estates, single-family homes and condominiums, as well as a 55-plus community, along with a town center with shops and restaurants. The overall plans allow for up to 1,932 homes (of which 502 specific lots have already been approved by the city) and up to 400 hotel keys in the community.Well before Disney entered the picture last year, the land’s potential was on the radar of developers and city officials. The roughly square mile of vacant land, which was long owned by the Annenberg Estate, was sold to investors in 1977, and the city later approved plans for a golfing and residential development known as The Eagle.But that project fell through due to its investors’ financial struggles, and the land was bought for $75 million in 2018 by EC Rancho Mirage Holdings, a group of investors led by a Canadian private equity firm who then brought in DMB Development to manage and develop the site.The specific plan and environmental impact report for the site, including the swimmable lagoon, gained approval from the city council in 2019, though the project’s water use has occasionally drawn criticism since then. During Thursday’s meeting, Alena Callimanis, a La Quinta resident who has questioned the lagoon’s viability in past meetings, urged the council and the developer to reduce the size of the water feature.What the council saidThe guidelines approved Thursday will apply only to detached single-family homes, and they don’t change the underlying zoning and densities included in the project’s approved plan, Senior Planner Joy Tsai told the council.“The design guidelines present four collections, each with defining elements and color palettes inspired by the Coachella Valley,” Tsai said. “These design guidelines will promote architectural variety while maintaining consistency throughout the development.”The four collections, which call for desert and “earthtone” colors and allow for contemporary and mid-modern styles, will be used by homebuilders who buy residential lots from DMB Development. Tsai said the higher-density lots will be near the town center, while homes along the edges of Cotino will mainly have one story.Under the guidelines, Cotino homebuilders will still be required to submit a final development plan to city staff for review, but as long as their plans comply with the existing specific plan and design parameters, they could skip the public hearing process that is usually a preliminary step.City officials supported the streamlining move, noting the environmental assessment and other components of the project have already gained approval.“In no way are standards being lowered to any degree,” councilmember Ted Weill said. “What we’re doing is increasing the efficiency of the applications once they start, so this will be an expedient (move) as far as the city and the developer are concerned.”Mayor Pro Tem Steve Downs agreed, saying the guidelines “make a good deal of sense” by saving everyone time as Cotino takes shape.“It avoids the necessity to go back to the architectural review board, to the planning commission and ultimately to the city council, for every single builder that buys a group of lots from the developer to build,” Downs said.Home sales could begin in 2024; other dates unclearWhile the council’s move lays the framework for building homes, it remains unclear when the first people will be able to move into Cotino.Mary Alexander, executive vice president and general counsel for DMB Development, said their hope is to open an on-site “sales center” for people to learn more about the development this fall. But she said any further details would be premature, given they are still waiting on some state-level approvals.“Given how the builders are progressing with their plans — and staff is going to see those very soon — we’re hoping for early next year to be able to have builders offering products for sale,” Alexander said.Neighbors take issue with blowing sandThe Cotino site sits on the northwest corner of Frank Sinatra Drive, left, and Monterey Avenue as seen in this aerial photo from June 14, 2023.The council heard from just a few people during public comment on the proposed guidelines, largely from the Palm Desert Greens Country Club, which sits just southeast of the Cotino site.Kenneth Dobson, who leads the Palm Desert Greens board of directors, called the project beautiful, but said his neighborhood lately has been “besieged by sand coming from Cotino.”“Our residents are literally digging, shoveling out Rancho Mirage’s sand, and I would ask you to help us make sure that stops, or at least mitigates to the greatest degree possible,” Dobson said.His comments were reiterated by another Palm Desert Greens resident, who said the blowing sands along Monterrey Avenue can be hazardous for pedestrians and drivers.In response, City Manager Isaiah Hagerman said the issue of blowing sand is not unique to the Cotino site, describing the city’s efforts as a “constant battle.”“We’ll clear a roadway, then within hours, it’s all back again… This has just been one of those historic years when it comes to blowing sand,” Hagerman said.Alexander said the developer has water trucks on site “on a daily basis” to assist with sand and dust suppression, which she described as a huge cost.“We’re happy to pay that cost, because we don’t want dust in the air, (and) we don’t want it in the streets,” Alexander said. “We’re doing everything that’s in our power, other than controlling the winds, which we wish we could do.”Tom Coulter covers the cities of Palm Desert, La Quinta, Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells. Reach him at thomas.coulter@desertsun.com.This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Rancho Mirage will speed up review of home designs in Disney’s Cotino

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