Housing developer stays the course: poking sticks at East Orange community

By Tina Richards

Milan Capital, the company that purchased the former Ridgeline Golf Course and tried to get it rezoned to accommodate 38 houses, lost that battle when the California Supreme Court ruled against it. Now, at the same time it’s looking for a zone change to build 150 units on the 109-acre Sully-Miller property it owns, it is attempting to circumvent the state court’s Ridgeline decision.

Six years ago, the Orange Park Association, along with Orange Citizens for Parks and Recreation, opposed Milan's Ridgeline development because the property was zoned “open space/recreation,” and that’s what the East Orange community wanted it to be.  When the city council approved a zone change to allow housing, Orange Citizens launched a citywide referendum asking voters to reject the city’s approval of Milan’s zone change. The referendum succeeded, but Milan challenged it with a lawsuit, claiming the zone change wasn’t needed after all, because a “lost” addendum to the 1973 Orange Park Acres Specific Plan allowed housing on the property.

Court sides with citizens
Milan won its case in the trial court. Orange Citizens appealed the decision, but the Appellate Court upheld the ruling in favor of the developer. Orange Citizens then took its appeal to the state Supreme Court and the justices agreed to hear the case. In December 2016, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the residents and directed the lower courts to adjust their decisions.  The Fourth Appellate District Court reversed its ruling in March 2017. It found that “no issues remained” for the lower trial court except to “determine costs and fees” to be recovered by the plaintiffs, and paid by Milan Capital.

Despite the Appellate Court ruling, Milan’s attorneys returned to the trial court arguing that there were issues yet to resolve, including the company’s claim that there were irregularities in the 2012 referendum.  Orange Citizens’ attorneys have filed a motion asking the trial court to dismiss Milan’s argument and enter a judgment according to the Appellate ruling. They will thereafter file a motion to recover Orange Citizens’ attorney fees under California’s Private Attorney General Statute.

There is no apparent linkage between the proposed development and the referendum litigation, but Milan’s claim of “irregularities,” and its delay in paying Orange Citizens’ attorney fees are muddying the waters.  

Hidden agenda?
“We really don’t understand their end game, as the courts couldn’t be clearer,” OPA President Don Bradley said.  “The referendum succeeded.  Ridgeline remains open space and the general plan must be followed.  The only issue that remains is costs and attorney fees.” 

Milan is seeking acquiescence on its Sully-Miller project from the same people who sued it over Ridgeline. Like Ridgeline, the site falls within the purview of the OPA Specific Plan.   The City of Orange General Plan labels it “sand and gravel” or “open space.”  As it stands, the current zoning designation allows Milan to build about 25 homes.

Milan presented four versions of its 50-acre, 150-unit plan to the community at a Notice of Preparation (NOP) meeting in March.  A fifth version, allowing for 25 acres of development, was recommended by the City of Orange Sully-Miller Liaison Committee and included in the mix.  Over 100 residents from OPA, Mabury Ranch, The Reserve and surrounding neighborhoods attended the meeting.   They were asked to identify the plan they favored.  The lower density liaison committee plan was the crowd favorite.  The City of Orange received over 100 responses to the NOP, none of them favorable to the 150-unit Milan proposal.