Chapman U withdraws application to expand
Chapman University advised the City of Orange, Aug. 25, that it was withdrawing its application for a specific plan amendment to increase student enrollment from 8,700 to 11,650 over the next 10 years and expand its square footage footprint.
Chapman’s Chief Operating Officer Harold Hewitt told the city that the university will likely resubmit its application in 2016, but in the meantime intends to increase its public outreach. Chapman wants to work with the city to create a community advisory committee, consisting of public officials, business leaders and representatives from the Old Towne Preservation Association and the Orange Barrio Historical Society.
Chapman released a formal announcement Aug. 26, attributing its suspension of plans to increase enrollment to its desire to “mitigate neighbor issues.” University officials had met with leaders of the Old Towne Preservation Society, listened to their concerns and suggestions and agreed to take a step back. “Chapman University wants to work closely with the city and our neighbors,” President Jim Doti said. “I’ve always felt that when there are challenges, it's best to meet face to face and talk them out.”
Shot across the bow
The university’s withdrawal came just two weeks after Orange City Councilman Mike Alvarez questioned an otherwise routine agenda item involving a Chapman request for a hauling permit to move 76,000 cubic yards of dirt. The item appeared on the council’s Aug. 11 consent calendar, which contains commonplace administrative tasks that typically require no discussion and are summarily approved in one vote. Alvarez pulled the Chapman University request from the consent calendar because he had questions about pedestrian safety, truck traffic volume and hours of operation.
“It seems like Chapman is not reaching out to neighbors being impacted by students, traffic and construction. At least not the way I’d like. I want Chapman to see there’s one councilman, who for the first time, can’t really support what they’re doing.” Alvarez may well have been the first crack in Orange’s penchant to approve almost every expansion request made by the university.
As part of its construction plans for a new science and technology center, the university will excavate an area 140 ft. wide, 560 ft. long and 26 ft. deep to accommodate a two-story parking garage nested below the new buildings. Plans for that construction have already been approved, but moving more than 30,000 cubic yards of dirt requires the city council to approve a separate hauling permit.
No slam dunk
Alvarez pointed out that 40 to 60 trucks going back and forth all day long might present a safety issue for residents, noting that a pedestrian had recently been killed at a blinking yellow light nearby. He also pointed out that the hours specified for hauling, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., overlapped the hours when school let out.
The new underground parking structure will adjoin the existing Lastinger parking facility located below the sports complex. Earlier in that council meeting, several residents reported that vehicles exiting that parking structure often used Orange Street. Orange Street is residential, and neighbors say speeding traffic coming from the lot creates problems for the neighborhood. Alvarez questioned the wisdom of enlarging a parking structure that was already a source of neighborhood complaints.
His reluctance to rubber stamp the hauling permit, Alvarez said later, was an attempt to get the university’s attention. For several months, community members have appeared at council meetings to decry the negative impact Chapman students have wrought on their formerly quiet streets. He wanted Chapman officials to know they needed to slow down.
The council voted 4 to 0 to approve the permit; Alvarez abstained.