November 2018

Approvals fast-tracked for OPA project despite community objections

By Tina Richards

A six-unit tract map for a planned development on the horse arena property in Orange Park Acres was OK’d by the Orange Planning Commission, Oct. 1, despite repeated requests to postpone the decision until the OPA Planning Committee had a chance to review and submit comments.

The City of Orange, in 2004, named the OPA Board of Directors as the “planning committee” responsible for reviewing and advising on any construction project within that community’s boundaries. The OPA board review generally takes place during a public hearing held before a project goes to the planning commission. That process assures that proposed developments adhere to the OPA Specific Plan. 

In the past, the city had notified the board of impending projects and given it a deadline for comments. In this case, the tract map was released on Aug. 30, with public comments due on Sept. 19. Because no specific notice was given to the OPA board/planning committee, it was not clear that its “official” comments were due that date as well.  

Common courtesy
Orange Park Acres does not oppose the development. The horse arena property, part of the Sully-Miller acreage owned by Milan Capital, is zoned r-1-40, meaning homes must be built on one-acre lots. The one-acre baseline conforms to the OPA Specific Plan; the community, however, wants to ensure that the development’s details do too.

In a letter to the planning commission, Board President Don Bradley wrote, "In recent years, the city has made specific requests to OPAC to review projects. With respect to this project, however, the city did not make any such request. As soon as OPAC learned this, it informed the city and the applicant. Nevertheless, the city has prematurely set a planning commission hearing for Oct. 1. OPA respectfully requests that the city continue the planning commission hearing to a date after OPAC has conducted its public hearing and provided its analysis.”

Bradley’s request was supplemented with comments made at the public hearing by OPA residents who implored commissioners to postpone a decision on the map until the customary community review had been done.

Orange City Planner Robert Garcia told commissioners that OPA had been given the tract map by Milan consultant Frank Elfend on Aug. 31, and that the review committee had 15 days to respond. “The city isn‘t obligated to contact OPA,” he said.  “It’s up to the applicant.” Elfend confirmed that he had provided the tract map on that day, and the OPA board should have known the clock was ticking.  

Worth the wait?
Commissioner Adrienne Gladson favored giving OPA more time to offer input. “Why not let them have more time, allow the process to take place?” she asked. “I don’t have what I need to decide that this complies with OPA’s plan. I don’t have enough information to check the boxes.”  

Commissioner Daniel Correa, noting that Aug. 31 to Oct. 1 was a “short time,” was prepared to deny the project entirely. “I have problems with the initial study,” he said. “There’s four things:  aesthetics, biology, wildlife, and soil. How many trees will be cut down? What birds are nesting there? Will grading impact neighboring property? How is the soil going to be treated? I read the whole study. I didn’t find answers.”

Gladson and Correa voted against approving the tract map; Commissioners Doug Willits, Ernie Glasgow and Dave Simpson voted “yes.”

“I’m sorry OPA didn’t have time to look at it,” Willits said. “It could have been a great resource, but you missed the window.”

Ernie Glasgow admitted he had some concerns, but in the end believed, “We have to trust our staff to say it fits within the plan.”

Simpson agreed that OPA had missed its opportunity to offer input prior to the planning commission hearing. “But,” he said, “OPA can have comments in time for the city council meeting.”

Snubbed but not subdued
That’s exactly what OPA did. The board held a public hearing on the tract map, Oct. 17, inviting comments from residents. The meeting room at Moreno’s Restaurant was filled with people who had a stake in the process, but neither Frank Elfend nor any Milan representative was among them.

“Normally we start public hearings with a presentation by the applicant,” Don Bradley told the audience, “but he’s not here.  Is anyone from Milan here?” he asked.

“Well, I guess we know what they think of us,” an audience member muttered loud enough to be heard.

Bradley reminded the public that the horse arena property was zoned for housing and the planned one-acre parcels adhere to the community’s specific plan. 

The OPA plan has a checklist of features that new developments must meet to be in compliance. Streetlights, for example, are a non-starter. “I see four streetlights on the map,” neighbor Lucy Busbee noted. “One of them will shine into my bedroom window. I don’t see lights anywhere else in OPA.”

Devil’s in the details
There are none. Neither are curbs, gutters or sidewalks, all of which were included in Milan’s tract map, and called out by speakers at the hearing. In addition to “rural roads,” the OPA plan standards include space to keep animals and trails to ride horses. While the lots are large enough to accommodate animal keeping, residents want assurances that anything built there would be advertised as “equestrian.” They also opposed putting a horse trail along busy Santiago Canyon Road, as the tract map indicated.

The community review also questioned runoff. Will it go into Handy Creek? What are downstream and upstream impacts? And trails. Who will maintain them? An HOA? What about slope issues? How much grading will be done? What will the houses look like? The recurring theme, however, was “stick to the specific plan.”

“It’s clear how much our community loves this community,” Bradley summarized.

The next city council meeting will be Nov. 13.  Based on the identified conflicts with the specific plan, the additional issues raised, and because Frank Elfend did not attend, the OPA Board agreed to recommend that the council send the project back to the planning commission for further consideration.