Development opponents brace for Orange council decision; referendum may be only remedy
The hearing on the proposed 128-unit housing development on the Sully-Miller property adjacent to Santiago Creek was continued to Oct. 22, following five hours of public testimony, Sept. 24.
Councilman Chip Monaco lives within 1,000 feet of the project and may have to recuse himself, according to Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) rules. He is awaiting an exemption letter from the FPPC, but in the meantime, he said, he cannot participate in the proceedings.
The council is considering a zone change that would allow housing on the former sand and gravel mine (now concrete crushing) in East Orange. The council must also certify the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and accept the development agreement between the city and property owner Milan Capital.
Community sentiment is largely against the project; supporters are primarily residents who live next to the crushing operation and have been assured by the developer that when the housing is approved, the noise and dust will stop. Ten people spoke in favor of the project during the hearing and all noted the intolerable conditions they are currently enduring and the eyesore created by the mountains of dirt, concrete and rock. Anything is better than this, was the anthem, and housing is the best answer.
Project opponents agree that the concrete crushing must stop and the entire property be cleaned up. But, several insisted, “You don’t have to build houses to clean up the site. Milan should clean up the mess it made anyway.”
Speakers at the council hearing covered the same ground as they did at the planning commission meeting. Opponents decry the rezoning’s violation of three specific plans written in the 70s that designate the property as open space. They also stress the failures of the Environmental Impact Report to inform the public of the project’s effects on the community. The city’s impending approval of a significant land fill operation just down the road will introduce additional truck trips, noise and air pollutants. All of that should have been included in the Sully-Miller project’s cumulative impact studies, but it wasn’t.
Citizens opposed to the development are preparing “for the worst” and gearing up to launch a referendum. “If the city makes a decision that isn’t in the best interests of its residents,” says OPA resident Sharon Mulé, “we’re going to want to put it on the ballot and let voters decide.
“This project has citywide and regional impacts,” she explains. “Traffic congestion, taxpayer liabilities, inadequate evacuation routes in case of fire or flood, land use plans that property owners can no longer rely on, loss of open space, and a city government that seems to put developers ahead of its citizens.”
If the council approves the development, residents will have 30 days to collect 7,000 valid voter signatures in order to put the issue on the November ballot.