By Daniel Langhorne
A developer’s proposal to build 85 dormitory units on the Killefer School’s campus near Old Towne marks the first non-Chapman affiliated project in recent history to propose housing for the ever-growing population of university students.
If city officials approve the project, the Orange Unified School District stands to earn about $5 million from the sale of the 1.7-acre property at 541 N. Lemon St., which it declared as surplus, getting the attention of several housing developers and Chapman University.
Architect Leason Pomeroy III said the project is an important step toward solving the lack of multi-family housing in Old Towne that is driving Chapman students to rent single-family homes, bringing beer pong games and electronic music to once-sleepy neighborhoods. “It’s causing a lot of pain for the city,” Pomeroy said. “The older neighbors are at odds with the police department [over students’ parties]. We felt that having a project at that location would solve a lot of different problems.”
Stuck in the middle
Western States Housing Development Co.’s proposal includes wrapping two- and three-story apartment buildings containing 65 units, around the 1931 schoolhouse, which cannot be torn down because it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The development would also include the rehabilitation of the quickly deteriorating schoolhouse so it can house 20 dormitory rooms. This portion of the project has raised some eyebrows at city hall because the National Park Service has guidelines for rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of historic schoolhouses, which include preserving character-defining exterior and interior features such as corridors, classroom partitions, doors and windows.
Killefer Square residents would have two levels of underground parking, totaling 138 spaces, available. However, Pomeroy expects many students to bike, walk or skateboard between the project and Chapman because they are less than a block apart.
Jeff Frankel, preservation chair for the Old Towne Preservation Association, said the group opposes the project as it’s proposed because it overwhelms the historic schoolhouse. The proposed apartment buildings shield any view of the schoolhouse from Lemon Street. He believes that the developers and Chapman should renegotiate their bids for the property because the school district marketed the site as bare land.
The price of preservation
“The fact is that everyone who bid on it, [thought] they were bidding on a blank canvas,” he said. “The property from a developer’s standpoint is worthless with the historic [schoolhouse] on it.”
While Kris Olsen, vice president of campus planning and operations at Chapman, emphasizes that the proposal for Killefer Square is purely a developer-driven project, he also said the university supports it. “We welcome non-single-family-residence student housing solutions, particularly in areas that do not disturb our neighbors’ quality of life,” Olsen said in an email.
Killefer Square is not the only student housing development that Pomeroy has in the works. He is proposing to convert an historic building at 401 W. Chapman Ave. into a restaurant and build student housing that includes 30 beds on the property’s north side, between Atchinson and Cypress streets. Pomeroy hopes to get approval for this project by the end of the year.
Housing and holdings
Killefer Square appears to be getting a warm reception from officials at Orange City Hall, Councilman Mike Alvarez said. “I think we seriously have to consider it to help with the housing issue,” he explained. “I think it’s just a matter of how do we bring together preservation needs for that school and to what degree do we look at Leason’s project and say, ‘how much housing do we allow.’”
Chapman is considering all options to increase student housing on campus or at other suitable off-campus locations, similar to Panther Village at Chapman Ave. and I-5, Olsen said. Among the projects Chapman plans is the development of the Villa Park Orchards Residential Village on the parking lot that hosts the Orange Home Grown Farmers and Artisans Market. “The process has already begun, which includes the sensitive and thorough research into the historical integrity of the site and how to best preserve it,” Olsen said.
City Manager Rick Otto said he meets “quite frequently” with Harold Hewitt, chief operating officer and executive vice president at Chapman, and says the city will provide any support the university needs. But he said it’s hard to say if Chapman’s proposed housing projects will be approved. “I don’t have a crystal ball,” Otto said. “I don’t know, ultimately, what Chapman will be seeking, or if the university will get everything it is asking for.“