Old Towne Preservation Association draws red line for           Chapman University’s expansion

By Daniel Langhorne

The Old Towne Preservation Association (OTPA) is opposing Chapman University’s 10-year growth plan because many residents now see the institution as degrading the community’s character.

Old Towne Orange is no longer just known for being the largest National Historic District in California and as a host to antique shops. The area is now rife with cheers from backyard beer pong games, foodies lining up for the latest trendy restaurant and, of course, the infamous “undie run” that sends thousands of intoxicated students running to the Orange Plaza once every semester.

Among OTPA’s top grievances, is that the city has allowed Chapman to increase its enrollment without building enough dormitories to house more students. The result is that Chapman parents and real estate investors purchase homes to be used as student housing.

Curb the campus
“The aggressive expansion proposed will further deteriorate the fabric and integrity of the historic district,” OTPA President Sandy Quinn wrote in a letter to the city.

The City of Orange is preparing a draft environmental impact report for Chapman’s latest amendment to its specific plan. The specific plan is a document approved by the city council that outlines the constraints on Chapman’s enrollment and development.

Only two of the 141 community members who contacted the city to comment on the next specific plan amendment spoke in favor of it.  

Among impacts of the current student population listed by the association are: additional traffic, lack of street parking, increased development, noise, litter, strained infrastructure and the creation of a dorm atmosphere in residential neighborhoods.

Chapman offered no specific solution to address these concerns but welcomed dialogue with its neighbors.

Open to suggestions
“Chapman University is fully committed to working with our neighbors and the City of Orange to address concerns and identify solutions as a critical part of our specific plan update process,” wrote Mary Platt, spokeswoman for Chapman University, in an email. “All the issues mentioned in the letter from OTPA will be evaluated as part of this process. We’re confident that the university, our neighbors and the city can together provide a number of solutions to ensure that Orange continues to prosper and be a great place to live.  We look forward to continuing a productive dialogue.”

These impacts have not been lost on Councilman Mike Alvarez, who said he’s been battling the owner of a Chapman fraternity house on his street.

“I think the school has to find a way to curb the problem on its end of it,” he said.

The proliferation of fraternities and sororities at Chapman has undoubtedly contributed to the conflict between students and their neighbors. Chapman has allowed seven new chapters to colonize at its campus over the last eight years. One in three Chapman students is now affiliated with these organizations.

Yet university officials have little interest in establishing a Greek Row that would concentrate many of the unofficial party houses in one area.

“There’s no interest because nobody has made it an issue,” Alvarez said.

Room to grow?
Chapman still has elbowroom to grow through its existing specific plan. About 7,900 students now attend the university, but it is allowed to have up to 8,700. 

If the city council chooses not to allow Chapman to expand its enrollment to the proposed 11,650 students, it would be an unprecedented step. 

Chapman will soon embark on one if its most ambitious projects. The Center for Technology and Science will be a 140,000-square-foot classroom, laboratory and research building. The three-story structure on North Center Street will stretch from Walnut Avenue to Sycamore Avenue.

“It’s just another slap in the face,” said Jeff Frankel, preservation chair for the OTPA.

“We’re going to do everything in our power to stop this expansion until they mitigate the impacts they’ve created,” Frankel said. “Only then will we consider any plans for expansion.”