The view from the terminus of Pheasant Lane.  Wimbleton Court, the alternate construction traffic access, is seen at the bottom of the hill.  The developer has agreed to use Wimbleton for heavy equipment.  Residents of that street have not weighed in.

By Tina Richards

An eight-home development was approved by the Orange City Council, April 11, following a lengthy discussion with the property owner about neighbors’ concerns and ways to appease them.

The 2.08-acre parcel, located on a slope northeast of Canyon View below an existing enclave of 24 homes, is landlocked.  Access to the property is via easements on Wimbleton Court and Pheasant Lane.  Both are private streets owned and maintained by the homeowners.  Wimbleton sits at the bottom of the slope, parallel to Canyon View; Pheasant Lane currently dead ends at the parcel higher up the grade.  Landowner Jordan Kahf planned to use Pheasant Lane for construction and resident access.

Pheasant Lane homeowners objected to the use of their private street for heavy construction traffic, noting it was too narrow for large vehicles, that heavy equipment would damage the road, and that it would present a safety hazard to children playing in the quiet neighborhood, and to motorists speeding down Canyon View.  Ingress/egress to Pheasant Lane is via Raven Court, which is largely invisible to drivers executing the steep, broad curve of Canyon View just above where the tiny side street intersects.  Residents report many near misses at that intersection and fear that slower, larger truck traffic entering Canyon View at that point is dangerous.  They suggested using Wimbleton instead.

Alarmed, but disarmed
Pheasant Lane homeowners had attended last month’s city planning commission hearing to protest the use of their street for construction, additional car trips, safety hazards, privacy concerns, inadequate parking, aesthetics and the project’s overall disruption to their neighborhood.  Several suggested the access easements were invalid. The planning commission approved the project by unanimous vote.

The homeowners returned to the city council hearing to voice their concerns one more time.  A procession of residents spoke of construction likely “dragging on” because Kahf plans to build three houses right away, and sell the remaining five lots to people who would build their homes later.  Others noted that the aesthetics of the planned development were incompatible with all surrounding communities.  HOA President Jim Pijloo told the council that the property owner met with the board just once in 2015, and that he never returned to address their concerns. “We’re not opposed to the project,” he said, “but the property owner did little to follow through on the HOA’s requests to be neighborly.”

Prior to the public hearing, however, Kahf had explored alternate construction plans to appease the neighbors, and told council members that much of the heavy grading equipment could, in fact, enter the property via Wimbleton.  He further noted he was attempting to lease the adjoining empty lot to park the heavy vehicles, and thus avoid impacts to Pheasant Lane.  He also expressed his commitment to pay a fair share of the costs of maintaining the street.

A fork in the road
It may not matter.  Disgruntled homeowners had hired a lawyer to represent them.  Attorney Howard Cline told the council that the easement Kahf is relying on is “under a cloud.”  He noted that many residents had taken title of their property before the easement took effect, and that “you can’t give away what you don’t have.”  Another resident asked the council to delay making a decision until the easement issue could be settled.

Asked for a legal opinion on the state of the easement, City Attorney Wayne Winthers explained that city approvals are based on “what’s here,” and that the easement was a civil issue between the developer and the HOA.  City staff indicated that documents reflecting the easements appeared satisfactory and that it “was not the city’s problem.”

Easement aside, it was clear that the city council was listening to residents’ concerns. Members grilled Kahf and City Planner Robert Garcia on everything from emergency vehicle access, to traffic on Canyon View, to the grading schedule, to the number of dump trucks needed to haul 4,000 cubic yards of dirt onto the property.   They asked about impacts on viewshed, tree height and the development timeline.

Willing to bend
Kahf repeatedly noted his willingness to mitigate construction impacts, pay for street maintenance, limit tree height to preserve views, and do what he could to satisfy his future neighbors.

The council voted 4-1 to approve the project, but it was not the slam-dunk exhibited by the planning commission.  Mike Alvarez, the dissenting vote, favored continuing the decision until the aesthetic and construction issues could be worked out. “This is a project contained within another,” he said.  “It’s a good idea,” he told Kahf, “but the problem is access, and how you’re going to get to the property.  And you should consider some benefit to the neighborhood.  Right now, there is none.”

Councilman Mark Murphy said he could not support the project unless there was some conditional language inserted into the agreement.  He was amenable to Kahf’s promise to use Wimbleton for heavy equipment and pay for street maintenance, but, he said, he “wanted it in writing.”

Council comeback
In an unusual departure from the norm, Mayor Tita Smith reopened the public hearing to “negotiate” conditional language with Kahf.  He agreed to stipulate that the heavy grading equipment and construction vehicles would use Wimbleton Court; that if he were able to lease the adjoining parcel, it would be used for staging; and he would pay a to-be-determined share of maintenance costs on the private streets north of Canyon View.

“We’re satisfied with the outcome, and resolved to the consequences of the vote,” Pijloo said. “But we wish it could have been done in a more neighborly fashion.  We’re going to try to meet with the land developer to talk about the next steps, and to assure he remains compliant to the requirements of the city council’s final resolution, as promised.”

Property owner Jordan Kahf was also satisfied.  “The city council did a great job balancing between upholding the law fairly, while addressing the concerns of residents,” he said.  “It was no easy task.  The conditions placed on the development are tough. We agreed to them in a continued effort to show goodwill. We look forward to increased cooperation with both the city and neighbors.”

Pheasant Lane dead ends at the development site.  Residents were opposed to the use of their private street for construction traffic.  

Orange Council seeks accord between developer and neighbors before approving housing project