Developer breaks ground on Cotino, Disney's Storyliving master-planned community in Rancho Mirage

Sherry Barkas
Palm Springs Desert Sun

The first residents of Cotino, Disney's new Storyliving master-planned development in Rancho Mirage, could be moving in within two years, with home sales expected to start in early 2023.

The announcement came Tuesday when Disney, DMB Development and Rancho Mirage officials gathered for a groundbreaking at the 618-acre Cotino site, off Bob Hope Drive, between Frank Sinatra and Gerald Ford drives, and across from the entrance to Sunnylands Center and Garden. 

Disney announced in February it would be joining DMB Development on the project which includes a resort with 400-room hotel and 24-acre swimmable lagoon on former Annenberg Estate property.

Cotino will offer a mix of 1,700 homes, including estates, single-family homes and condominiums, as well as a 55-plus community, along with a town center to include shops and restaurants. All homes are planned for full-time residents and are expected to be sold at market price. 

Home sales are expected to open in early 2023 with the anticipation that the first residents will begin moving in in early 2024, said Thomas Mazloum, president of Disney Signature Experiences. 

The announcement of Disney's Storyliving community has been met with a mix of excitement and opposition by residents mostly concerned about water and the building of a lagoon during a drought.

About 60 people attended the invitation-only ceremony, held just off Frank Sinatra Drive. Speakers stood at a podium in front of a sand sculpture of a story book with “Your next chapter in a brilliant new setting: Cotino” carved in the sand.

Greg Tylee, left, Alex Tsakumis, Charles Townsend, Thomas Mazloum, Claire Bilby and Brent Herrington stand as butterfly-shaped confetti flies around during the groundbreaking ceremony for Disney's Cotino master plan community in Rancho Mirage, Calif., on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.

“At Disney, we are storytellers at heart. We are always dreaming of new ways to immerse our guests in incredible stories,” Mazloum said. “And, with Storyliving by Disney, we are going to introduce that Disney magic to people in new ways, and help them to write their next chapter in unique and absolutely beautiful communities.”

Rancho Mirage will be the first Storyliving by Disney master-planned communities, to be developed by Arizona-based DMB Development on a the 618-acre plot of land long-known as Section 31.

DMB Development president and CEO Brent Herrington said both Disney and the City of Rancho Mirage have high standards which will be met through the development.

“... we have pledged that we are going to strive every day to meet their expectations. But that standard-setting by the city drives us to excel, so I’m grateful for that,” Herrington said.

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“This piece of real estate sits in the square middle of their city and it has been waiting for decades for something to happen,” Herrington said. “So, they didn’t want to see just anything happen, they wanted something special to happen.”

Thomas Mazloum, President of Disney Signature Experiences, speaks during the groundbreaking for Disney's Cotino master plan community in Rancho Mirage, Calif., on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.

Cotino will be “one of the most significant master-planned projects in Rancho Mirage’s history. And, believe me, we are very proud for Cotino Storyliving by Disney,” said Rancho Mirage Mayor Charles “Charlie” Townsend, who began his speech joking, “What’s the big deal here?”

The development will “enrich and enhance our community,” Townsend said.

The 15-minute ceremony ended with the placement of a Cotino Coin bearing the project coordinates at the foot of the sand sculpture and release of biodegradable confetti shaped like white doves.

Enthusiasm for Cotino not shared by all

Since Disney announced its plans for Cotino, many Rancho Mirage and surrounding residents have spoken against the project, largely due to the 24-acre water feature they say is wrong for a desert community, especially when California is going through a drought.

“If we need to save water, I nominate the four surf parks and the mouse-eared lagoon for delay until the drought ends (if it does),” Dave Middleton of Palm Desert said in a recent Letter to the Editor of The Desert Sun.

Others have said the Disney name conjures up images of theme parks, costumed characters and animated films.

Cotino won’t be a theme park and businesses within the community will not sell theme park-related merchandise, officials have said. Nor will costumed characters such as Mickey Mouse be wandering the streets of Cotino.

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, managing homeowner associations and amenities, including the hotel and lagoon, “with the service, care and attention to detail that are the company’s hallmarks,” officials said.

Rendering of aerial view of the Cotino town center, the first "Storyliving By Disney" community planned for the Section 31 development in Rancho Mirage, CA. The 618-acre mixed-use project is being developed by DMB Development LLC of Scottsdale, Arizona, on vacant land once a part of the Annenberg Estate.

The lagoon will be open for public use, but a voluntary membership for Cotino 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.​

Until the property was sold to DMB in 2018, the land had been zoned for The Eagle – a planned community which included residential, recreational and commercial uses, including three golf courses, which officials have said would use more water than the lagoon.

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.

The project will use a double-pipe system to recapture all runoff water, which means irrigation will be cycled 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.

Desert landscaping will also be used throughout the development project to keep water use down.

What's next: ‘We’re hearing you’

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 have said.

“A piece of property like this is such a rare thing. It’s a gigantic infill site, and we’re surrounded by neighbors … who were perfectly happy before we ever came along. So, they have high expectations, too,” Herrington said.

To the neighbors, Herrington said: “We’re hearing you. We’re understand your expectations and we’re going to work really hard to make you happy with us. Hopefully, in 10 years, you’ll all look back and say, ‘You know, I’m really glad those guys came because … they made it a better place.”

More information about Cotino is available at the StorylivingbyDisney.com website where prospective homebuyers can sign up to receive emailed updates about the project.

Desert Sun reporter Sherry Barkas covers the cities of La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. She can be reached at sherry.barkas@thedesertsun.com. Follow her on Twitter @TDSsherryBarkas