By Tina Richards
After losing a contentious multi-year battle to develop the parcel known to neighbors as the Sully-Miller property, the landowner is once again asking the City of Orange for entitlements to build on the acreage.
The 109-acre property is the site of a former sand and gravel operation, and was more recently used to collect dirt and debris from construction sites. The land’s general plan/zoning designation is primarily “resource/sand and gravel” and “open space,” with a small portion set aside as residential.
A previous plan to build on 50 acres of the property was opposed by neighboring Orange Park Acres and Mabury Ranch, and rejected by the Orange Planning Commission and City Council in 2014.
Introduced to the community at a “public scoping” meeting, March 16, the new development proposal was vague, confusing, and defined in conflicting terms. Meeting attendees were asked to comment on five separate project maps, three of which seemed to be nothing more than window dressing designed to divert attention from the plan the developer, Milan Capital, favored.
What’s the point?
Community members asked repeatedly just what exactly they were being asked to comment on, given that none of the plans had any details, the impacts of the scenarios were unknown, and the March 3 Notice of Preparation did not designate any one of them as “the project.”
Map A, Milan’s choice, would include 150 houses built on 50 acres, a greenway surrounding Santiago Creek and passive open space. The area is not zoned for residences on 50 acres. In 1993, the northern 12.6 acres above the creek were zoned r-1-8 and were, at various times, slated for 18 to 25 houses. Somewhere along the line, the 12.6 acres began appearing as 15 acres in documents, so no one knows for sure exactly what the r-1-8 zoning footprint is.
The proposed 50 acres of Map A is almost identical to the land use proposed in Milan’s failed Rio Santiago Project. It will meet with the same objections. The property is governed by the OPA Specific Plan and the East Orange General Plan, both part of the city’s overall general plan.
Those plans identify the bulk of the property as open space, and set aside the creek area as permanent greenbelt. The OPA Specific Plan calls for homes to be built on one-acre lots. In addition, the property sits in a flood plain, is subject to liquefaction, and neighbors a former landfill that exudes methane gas.
A fresh start
To avoid the clash between the community and the builder that characterized Milan’s original proposal, the city convened a liaison committee of representatives from Orange Park Acres, Mabury Ranch and The Reserve, plus two city council members. Committee members have also met with Milan’s consultants separately. The goal was to come up with a plan that respected Milan’s rights to modest development, as well as the historic land designations of the East Orange and OPA specific plans.
Because the developer is entitled to build 25 houses, the committee suggested swapping the 12.6 (or 15) acre r-1-8 portion at the back of the property for 25 acres of “resource” land bordering Santiago Canyon Road, next to The Reserve. The resulting Map E set aside acreage for the Santiago Creek greenway and 25 acres of “community activity” open space that could potentially be used by equestrians, organic gardeners and 4-H clubs.
Maps B, C and D included 40 acres of development situated on different portions of the property.
At the public scoping meeting, City Planner Robert Garcia told the audience to assume that Map A was the “worst case scenario” and asked for comments on potential traffic, noise and environmental impacts generated by it, as well as the other plans.
Eye of the beholder
“I don’t know how to comment on these maps,” one audience member complained. “All I see is a bunch of colored blobs.” Others asked about the significant differences between the plans, whether the proposed lot sizes were one-acre or less, how much traffic the proposal would generate, how big the houses would be, and whether any of the builders’ plans (A-D), were designed within the existing zoning.
“We don’t know yet,” Garcia said. “This is not the time or place for those questions. We’re asking for your environmental concerns on any one of the scenarios. That’s all we’re looking at tonight.”
“How can you do an EIR if you don’t know what the project is,” a disgruntled resident asked. “We don’t know the number of residents, we don’t know how traffic will be routed. We don’t know how many houses will be built.”
Is it or isn’t it?
Garcia later stressed that commenters should consider Map A to be the “project,” with the other iterations considered as “alternates.”
Asked to clarify the purpose of the meeting, Planning Director Bill Crouch said, “Plan A isn’t the project. We want residents to comment on all the plans to help us to define the project. We need your help.”
Or not. Many who attended the meeting left frustrated and confused. Asked to comment on a project that may or may not be the real deal, is simply a worst-case scenario, or just colored blobs on a piece of paper, made meeting attendees angry.
“We just wasted our time,” said one. “I don’t know why this meeting was held,” said another. “We’ve been harassed for almost 10 years by this developer,” said yet another. “I don’t see this as a good start.”
Developer Milan Capital will need a zone change from the city to build its proposed 150 houses on 50 acres.
Residents favor a plan that moves the residential designation next to Santiago Canyon Road and makes“open space” contiguous.
Sully-Miller proposal raises hackles, not hopes
The City of Orange General Plan designates the bulk of the Sully-Miller site as “resource” or “open space.”