By Tina Richards

Two City of Orange residential developments totaling 1,217 units were OK’d by the planning commission during an uneventful public hearing, June 6.

Neither The Irvine Company’s Santiago Hills II project, straddling Santiago Canyon Road in East Orange, nor the Olson Company’s townhome development, bordered by Washington Avenue just east of Hewes, drew any objections from the public or the commissioners.  Both projects had been before the city more than once.

It was the Olson Company’s fourth attempt to get city approvals for a housing project destined for the four-acre parcel nestled among single-story single-family residences.  Olson originally proposed 58 two-story homes in 2014, but was thwarted by a single-story zoning overlay that governs the property.  The developer sought a variance for its two-story proposal, but neighbors rallied to prevent that from happening. Residents argued that two-story homes towering above their single-story neighborhood would invade their privacy with second-story windows offering a clear view into their backyards and bedrooms.

Rooms with a view

Olson scrapped the two-story plan, and came back with single-story-plus-loft design.  Same problem. The city considered the lofts to be a second story and neighbors still felt violated by windows that would overlook their properties. Last November, the Olson Company attempted to get city approval for a tract map that contained little more than penciled-in easements.  The plan could accommodate anywhere from five to 60 units, but included no details.  The essentially blank piece of paper was rejected.

The current Olson plan recommended for city approval by the planning commission contains 37 single-story townhomes with a maximum height of 20 feet.  Neighbors are relieved by the height restrictions, but worry that new residents will shun interior parking  opportunities  and  park on  Washington Avenue, which will offer easy access to the townhomes bordering that street. Residents noted that street parking is already impossible on Washington, that people fight over spaces and block possible curbside spots with trashcans and cones.

Olson assured the commission that it was providing 96 on-site parking spaces, more than the city requires, and that the homeowners association would ensure that people used their garages for cars and not storage. Garage use will be enforced, said Olson’s Doris Nguyen, by HOA inspections.

No parking anywhere

When asked if the city received more  than  the  usual  number  of complaints  about  parking  on Washington,  a  traffic  engineer reported  that  complaints  from that  area  were  commensurate with the rest of the city. “Orange has a parking problem overall,” she said. “It’s not unique to that neighborhood.”

Kimberley Johnson, whose Via Paloma home is separated from the site by a drainage ditch, has been a vocal opponent of the intrusive nature of the development.  She’s satisfied with the single-story approach, but still has concerns about  lighting  and  landscaping.  “I want assurances from the city that Olson will plant trees to protect our privacy and that lighting will be shielded,” she said.

Concerns that a portion of the property is in a flood plain and has not yet received FEMA approval were deferred to the city council for later discussion.

Shrink to fit

Santiago Hills II was originally approved by the city for 1,746 units in 2000.That project was challenged by a lawsuit, which was ultimately  settled  out  of court. The Irvine Company (TIC) came back in 2005 with a 1,596-unit configuration that was again approved. A series  of  lawsuits and the 2007 recession kept the bulldozers at bay.

This time around, TIC  was asking to modify its previous approvals  to  include  fewer  homes – 1,180 – on less acreage.  Since Santiago Hills II was already entitled, and the developer agreed to appease the community with trail connections,  more  open  space, and no hilltops homes in view of Irvine Park, there was very little to contend.Dan Miller, TIC representative, reported that the new tract would be  energy  and  water  efficient, contain 9.5 acres of parkland, and three miles of trails. Both Jamboree  and  Santiago  Canyon  Road will be widened to six lanes, with two additional traffic signals in-stalled  to  accommodate  access and egress from the subdivision. When asked about traffic impacts on Santiago Canyon Road to Wanda, Miller assured the com-mission  that  it  would  be  insignificant because most tract traffic “would be going the other way—toward the toll roads.”  At a previous community meeting, however, Miller  acknowledged that Chapman would see more traffic.

Kumbaya

The  planning  commission clearly expected a slew of public comments from individuals sup-porting or opposing both projects. Previous hearings on Washington Avenue and Santiago Hills II had attracted scores of public speakers, and involved lengthy discussions  between  commissioners, city  staff  and  the  developers. Chair Adrienne Gladson prepared for a long night, telling the audience, at the onset, that the three-minute limit per speaker would be strictly enforced, and that she hoped to wrap up the hearing by 10:30 p.m.

The barrage did not come. A handful of public speakers raised continued concerns about Washington Avenue  parking and expressed  their  overall  distrust  of the townhome developer.  Even fewer  addressed  Santiago  Hills II, with comments limited to cautious praise for The Irvine Company’s reduced footprint and cooperation with Orange Park Acres regarding an expanded trail system.

Both projects are slated to go before the Orange City Council for final approval this month or next.

Formerly controversial housing developments modified to pass muster

The Irvine Company first graded the land that would become Santiago Hills II about 10 years ago. This is a photo of how the property looked at that time. (File Photo)