Will Mickey Mouse, other characters roam streets of Rancho Mirage development? Disney answers questions
Mickey Mouse will not be strolling the streets, nor will Minnie Mouse be leading yoga classes at Cotino, Disney’s premiere “storyliving” mixed-use community planned for 618 acres in Rancho Mirage that were once part of the Annenberg estate.
On Feb. 16, Disney announced it was joining DMB Development Co. out of Scottsdale, Arizona, designing a master planned community for the project currently known as “Section 31.” The vacant land is bordered by Frank Sinatra and Gerald Ford drives on the north and south and Bob Hope Drive and Monterey Avenue on the east and west.
The corporate entertainment giant says its Storyliving communities will be “infused with the company’s special brand of magic,” with Disney Imagineers playing a key role in developing the creative concept for the communities, working with respected developers and homebuilders.
Disney employees, called cast members, will be part of each community’s membership clubs.
But while phrases like “special brand of magic,” “cast members” and “Imagineers” may conjure up images of theme parks and vacation resorts with stores filled with Disney-themed gift items and costumed characters roaming about, Disney officials say that is not the image that is being created with Cotino – or the Storyliving line.
Mass grading of Section 31 has begun, Mayor Ted Weill said, and will take about eight months. He believes it could be a year to 18 months before there is any building activity.
A timeline for build-out of Cotino has not been released by Disney or DMB.
For nearly 100 years, Disney has shared stories that have touched the hearts and minds of people around the world, representatives said in an email to The Desert Sun seeking more details.
“As we prepare to enter our second century, we are developing new and exciting ways to bring the magic of Disney storytelling to people wherever they are,” officials said.
Storyliving by Disney will be unique, they said. The developments are not vacation resorts or tied to theme parks.
Section 31 is planned to include about 1,700 homes, 400 hotel rooms, some commercial and retail buildings and restaurants, and a 24-acre swimmable lagoon that will be open to the public but also offer private amenities for homeowners who opt to be club members – similar to homeowners’ associations.
Disney Imagineers will play a key role in developing the creative concept for each community taking into consideration the history, culture and landscape of the region, officials said.
“We will be working with developers and homebuilders at each location,” Disney officials said. In Rancho Mirage, that is DMB Development.
Rancho Mirage ties back to company founder Walt Disney who had homes in the valley, officials said. The architecture and amenities of this Storyliving by Disney community will reflect the history and present-day inspiration of the rich Coachella Valley culture, officials said.
While Rancho Mirage is the first location to be announced, Disney is anticipating building its Storyliving communities at multiple, unnamed locations across the United States.
Some, including Cotino in Rancho Mirage, will include neighborhoods for residents 55+ in addition to a range of home types to choose from, including estates, single-family homes and condominiums. All are planned for full-time residency.
Disney cast members will manage each community’s associations and amenities, including the hotel and lagoon, “with the service, care and attention to detail that are the company’s hallmarks,” officials said.
A voluntary membership for homeowners will offer access to a waterfront clubhouse, a club-only beach area and recreational water activities, as well as Disney programming, entertainment and activities throughout the year.
Cotino also has specific plan approval for a mixed-use district featuring a range of shopping, dining and entertainment, a beachfront hotel, and a professionally managed beach park with recreational water activities that can be accessed by the public for a fee.
Not everyone is happy to have Disney as a neighbor
The initial announcement by Disney on Feb. 16, has brought near equal amounts of opposition and concern as support and enthusiasm from Rancho Mirage and surrounding residents.
While many say a development with the Disney name attached will boost home values and the local economy – in and out of Rancho Mirage – others say it’s a bad fit.
Resident Tom Atkin told council members on Feb. 17 that he was “shocked” by the Disney announcement and questioned the building of a 24-acre, 8-foot-deep lagoon in the desert, when California is experiencing a historic drought.
“It could be terrific for Rancho Mirage. It could generate a great deal of revenue. But I’m deeply concerned that no one let us know that this is happening, and when I called in (to City Hall) I was shocked to find out that most of you didn’t find out until just recently,” Atkin said.
In a Letter to the Editor, Rancho Mirage resident Sam Lipetz wrote: “It appears the mayor may (be) being taken for a Disney ride and wants to take us all with him.”
If the project is permitted to go forward, “it will change the fabric of an entire community. In addition, the most-scarce resource of the 21st century, water, is being rationalized away.”
Some in Rancho Mirage have taken to Facebook to suggest a backroom deal was made between council members and Disney.
“What an utter and complete disaster this will be,” resident Katie Martin wrote in response to the announcement of Storyliving on the “Rancho Mirage News” Facebook page. “Whose palms got ‘greased’ for this one?” she wrote.
DMB Development brought Disney into the project, not Rancho Mirage, City Manager Isaiah Hagerman said.
The council’s job is to entitle a project and determine what can and cannot be built on a specific site, Hagerman said.
Once that is done, it is up to the property owner and developer to find the consultants and builders that will bring it to fruition, he said.
“That property owner and developer have the right to go out and pick the people they think is best and the city does not interfere with that process on who they select,” Hagerman said.
Until the property was sold to DMB Development in 2018, the land had been zoned for The Eagle – a planned community which included residential, recreational and commercial uses, including three golf courses.
Councilmember Steve Downs said had any other name but Disney been attached to the Section 31 development, the announcement may have gone unnoticed.
“If DMB had selected ‘Storyliving by Acme Design Services,’ it would have been a non-event,” Downs said.
Water among issues addressed in EIR
Mayor Ted Weill said Section 31 was planned out by DMB Development and went through an environmental review process that was approved by the City Council in 2019, along with the project’s specific plan, at the recommendation of the Planning Commission.
Coachella Valley Water District also signed off on Section 31, which was initially proposed to have a 34-acre lagoon but has been reduced to 24 acres.
“Coachella Valley Water District has provided us with assurance that there is more than adequate water for this 24-acre lagoon, along with the double-pipe system we have to recapture all runoff water,” Weill said. “That means all irrigation will be recaptured and put back into the aquifer.”
The project is planned with the use of Crystal Lagoons technology for the water feature, which proponents say reduces water, energy and chemical consumption.
Both the specific plan and environmental impact report remain accessible on the city’s website, ranchomirageca.gov, Weill said.
In his March 1 newsletter, posted on the city’s website and emailed out weekly to all signed up to receive it, Weill described the project as one of elegance.
“Let me begin with emphasizing that Disney’s part in the design of this project will not entail building a theme park in Rancho Mirage, but rather a vibrant, elegant and inspiring living community with the world-famous Disney touch as ‘Cotino, a Storyliving by Disney’ is brought to life in Rancho Mirage.”
While the specific plan has been approved that outlines what the 618-acre site will include with development, Cotino must still go through an application and approval process just as any other development project.
That means the project must face the Architectural Review Board, Planning Commission and ultimately the City Council for approval with opportunities for public input at each of those steps, officials said.
Desert Sun reporter Sherry Barkas covers the cities of La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TDSsherryBarkas