A pig in a poke

By Peter Jacklin

I have to confess that when he said it, I began to chuckle and managed, with great difficulty, to restrain my laughter.

He said that we’d have to approve the deal before we saw the deal.

The “he” to whom I’m referring is the consultant leading the charge for Milan Capital, the purveyors of the Trails at Santiago Creek project. You may remember the property under its aliases, Sully-Miller, Rio Santiago and the Fieldstone project.

I had asked why there is no tract map that the community can review. I had preceded that question, asking about the number of homes planned for the property and the expected size of the lots.

Surely, at this stage, and after a number of failed efforts, any SERIOUS land developer would have a pretty firm idea of these measures. Not so, Milan. 

How serious is Milan in developing the property? The environmental documents have proved to be incomplete, leaving several unanswered questions about the rehabilitation of the soil on the property, ownership and maintenance of Santiago Creek, mitigation of methane spewing from the adjacent dump site, and fulfillment of requirements for closing a mining operation. Several obvious environmental concerns to the community have been brushed aside, as not needing mitigation. Can you imagine, for example, more than two years of perpetual large-scale truck traffic on Santiago Canyon Road while the land is being prepared? 

Is Milan Capital planning a “hit and run” operation?  Is it hoping to get a zone change, and then sell the property to another “community changer”? New zoning makes the property more valuable and more attractive to the next buyer. Keep in mind, a future owner is an opportunity to start another battle with the community. 

Does Milan Capital have the slightest interest in what the surrounding community has to say? Apparently not. After more than a year of discussions between the Milan Capital team and affected communities, a public meeting on the project and years of litigation with the Orange Park Association, Milan has demonstrated that it is tone-deaf, and does not understand the needs of the community. The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) can only be viewed as an insult to the community and to the City of Orange staff. The report is incomplete, short-sighted, and lacks the required details to make an adequate assessment of the project. The DEIR must be returned with a bright red “inadequate” stamp on it.

Why would the community agree to this deal? Milan Capital is offering the Ridgeline property to the City of Orange. Indeed, it sounds magnanimous. The property is an albatross around Milan’s neck. After losing a long and expensive battle that led to the California Supreme Court, the property remains zoned as open space. It’s difficult to believe that Milan is willing to take on that fight again! Donating the property to the city gets it off Milan’s balance sheet and earns it a hefty tax credit. What the city will or can do with it remains a mystery. The city is severely deficient on its parks space, and the funding to develop the property is absent, pending the ever-increasing state pension program payments for its staff. The property may sit fallow for years.

I’ll continue to keep my eye on this project, and you should also. The property is one of the last undeveloped acreages in the city. It has a creek running through it. Part of it is designated as green space. It’s an ideal property for an extension to the East Orange park system or an appropriate mix of residential and open space that obeys the promises and plans that run with the land. 

Peter Jacklin is on the Orange Park Association real estate committee.