August 2018

Clearwater, slated to be built on Newport Avenue, will consist of 72 assisted living units and 28 memory care units under a county-approved “residential care facility” zoning overlay to the North Tustin Specific Plan. 

OC Planning Commission approves compromise

plan for senior housing

By Tina Richards

A scaled-down version of a senior living facility, slated to be built on Newport Avenue in North Tustin, was approved by the Orange County Planning Commission, July 25.

Clearwater at North Tustin, a 100-unit assisted living facility, is the result of a compromise reached between property owner the Catholic Diocese of Orange, the Foothill Communities Association (FCA) and the county, following a contentious battle over a larger, three-story senior residence that raged on for years.

North Tustin residents, represented by the FCA, opposed the original project, primarily because it violated the community’s specific plan, which precluded commercial enterprises and designated the acreage as single-family residential.  Residents claimed the facility would pave the way for additional commercial development in the neighborhood, encourage other property owners to seek inappropriate zone changes and add noise and congestion.  

Meet in the middle
The seven-acre parcel just east of 17th Street was donated to the Catholic diocese for use as a religious or educational facility more than 60 years ago.  When the North Tustin Specific Plan (NTSP) was created in 1982, it respected the historic plan for the site, but added single-family homes as an acceptable alternative.

The 250-ft.-long, 153-unit Springs at Bethsaida proposed in 2010 was neither. The board of supervisors, however, agreed to amend the NTSP to overlay a “senior residential housing” designation on that specific property, and approved the project.  The FCA sued and won in the lower court in 2011, but lost on appeal.  After being elected as third district supervisor in 2012, Todd Spitzer promised constituents he would ask his board colleagues to reverse the amendment, which they did in 2015. That reversal nullified the project approval, and the Catholic Diocese sued the county.

While that court case was pending, Spitzer negotiated a smaller version of the proposed facility with the diocese, and subsequently convinced FCA to accept it.  Its choice, Spitzer advised, was to let the court case continue and, if the diocese won, revert to the original large-scale version.  Or, accept the smaller version and avoid the uncertain future wrought by the court case. Residents acquiesced.  

Softer sell
The smaller version is two one-story buildings on a six-acre footprint, with 26- to 73-foot setbacks and dense landscaping.  The senior residential housing overlay has been replaced with a “residential care facility” overlay that includes height, setback and building coverage restrictions that cannot be applied elsewhere without a specific plan amendment, and only to properties six acres or more.

The throngs of North Tustin residents who crowded the public hearings held by the North Tustin Advisory Committee, planning commission and board of supervisors to oppose the Springs at Bethsaida were absent for the Clearwater discussion.  A handful of neighbors attended the Clearwater planning commission hearing, several offering their support, and others voicing concerns about drainage and the status of a boundary wall that separated their properties from the project site.

Clearwater consultant Carol McDermott met those concerns with assurances that the project included a drainage system that will actually decrease runoff, and that grading will be approached in a manner to avoid damage to the wall.  If the wall is damaged, Clearwater will “take full responsibility.”

Looking up
Other neighbors pointed out that once the property is graded, the ground level will be just slightly lower than the top of the boundary wall. Cars driving along the Clearwater access road will be visible above the wall.  

“We’ll have a good view of tires,” one neighbor said.  Another was concerned about headlight glare shining over the wall into her windows.

McDermott indicated that the builder had already agreed to install a “green wall” along a portion of the roadway by one neighboring residence to eliminate headlight glare targeting that home.  She also noted that since this was a senior facility, with deliveries restricted to business hours, very few cars would be driving along that road at night, hence no headlight glare.

Planning Commissioners Kevin Rice, Trung “Joe” Ha and Thomas Quach voted to approve the project.  Commissioners Cameron Irons and David Bartlett did not attend the meeting.