Hilltop will give way for new houses

By Tina Richards

A 40-unit housing tract slated to be built on the site of the former Marywood Catholic School was approved by an abbreviated Orange City Council, Oct. 13.

Mayor Tita Smith was absent from the meeting, and Councilman Fred Whitaker recused himself because his law firm does work for the Catholic Diocese, the owner/seller of the property.

That left council members Mike Alvarez, Mark Murphy and Kim Nichols to consider the project, which will require the hillside bordered by Villareal Drive and Denise Avenue to be reconfigured before construction can begin. When the school was built in the 1960s, a 70-ft.-deep canyon was filled in to provide a flat surface.  The fill has been settling for 50 years, causing Marywood structures to crack, and creating a seven-inch slant in the cafeteria floor. 

Get down and dirty
The New Home Company plans to excavate down to the original canyon floor and recompact the hillside, moving 210,000 cubic yards of dirt in the process.  Homeowners around the site have been assured by New Home geologists that their properties will not be at risk. 

Neighbors will, however, be affected by the noise and dust of the excavating, crushing and grading operation, expected to continue for several months. The noisiest aspect of the land remodeling – crushing the Marywood building materials to be used as fill – will be limited to 10 days. 

While residents surrounding the bucolic Marywood site do not oppose the development, they did raise concerns about traffic congestion, earth moving, tract density and the adverse ambiance the gated subdivision will inflict on them.  Nonetheless, the project sailed through the city’s design review committee, planning commission and now, the city council.

Residents were told they’d have to live with the disruption caused by excavating and construction because it would be “temporary.” The project’s density, lot sizes and parking are within current zoning standards and it is, therefore, considered a “good fit” by Orange’s governing bodies.

Calling all cars
City staff and New Home consultants reported that traffic impacts (almost 400 car trips per day) would have “no significant” impact on the community’s narrow winding streets, Santiago Blvd. (the main thoroughfare near the site) or the 55 freeway interchange at Lincoln Ave.  New Homes has volunteered to mitigate the insignificant impacts by restriping Villareal and adding a stop sign at Ridgepark.

The community accepted the city’s definition of “insignificant” traffic impacts, applauded the builder’s commitment to underground utilities, and crossed its collective fingers that the 210,000 cubic yards of dirt being moved would not include their homes’ foundations or swimming pools.  They continued, however, to object to the development’s gate.

Residents are insulted by the idea that they will have to forego the quiet enjoyment of their homes while the property is excavated, compacted and filled, the Marywood structures demolished and crushed, the land graded and homes built.  After all that, the gate will be shut and the new housing tract forever separated from the pre-existing community.

Hate the gate
“We call this Marywood Hills,” said resident Peter Homer.  “We’re 1,000 homes, and we’re not a fan of gates.  A gate will segregate the community; it will create the ‘elites’ and the ‘have nots.’  You’ll have the As, Bs, and Cs and we’ll be the Ds.  And we shouldn’t be.”

The gate is admittedly a marketing ploy.  “Buyers of expensive homes want gates,” New Homes' Doug Woodward said. 

Although the city is not required to satisfy a builder’s marketing goals, and each council member expressed a personal dislike for the gate, they approved the project anyway. “I like the project, Alvarez said, “but I wish there wasn’t a gate.”  “I don’t like the gate either,” Kim Nichols noted.  “But the benefits of this project outweigh the gate.“  Mark Murphy also expressed dissatisfaction with the gate, but noted that the builder had agreed to allow pedestrian access through the tract and “that is a good compromise.”

All wet
Despite the current drought and statewide mandates to save water, that subject did not come up. The City Of Orange, unlike other water providers in the area, has not met its reduced usage target.  Told by the state water board to cut overall consumption by 28 percent of 2013 usage, Orange is hovering at 27.6 percent. Yet water was not mentioned during the planning commission hearing or during the council meeting.  

Residents are enduring brown lawns, reusing gray water and not flushing toilets while the city greenlights more houses.  “We’re okay with that,” Mark Murphy said later. “We looked at all the environmental impacts and the project’s usage is far less than what it would be if it was a school again. Murphy also noted that the development offers many improvements in terms of runoff and storm drainage, and that the homes will be built with water-saving shower heads, toilets and faucets.  

November 2015