North Tustin group rallies against rezoning

Rally co-organizer Christina Nickel and son, Chase, held up signs with other opponents of a proposed 22-unit development in Cowan Heights.  Residents report they plan to bring their protest to the project site on Newport Blvd. every Thursday morning.

By Stephanie Lesinski

North Tustin residents fighting a proposed 22-home development in Cowan Heights were met with honks of support from motorists buzzing by on busy Newport Boulevard. A group calling itself “No Rezoning – Again!” inspired the Jan. 26 event dubbed “Rally for Homeowners’ Rights.” 

Rally organizers Jenny Benford and Christina Nickel said the goal of this, and future rallies, is to urge residents of North Tustin to sign a petition opposing rezoning of a 4.4-acre parcel at the southeasterly side of Newport Boulevard across from Kings Bridge Road in Cowan Heights. “We hope to inform the community about what’s going on,” said Benford. 

The group opposes a proposal by Sheldon Development, LLC to build two-story homes on 10,000-sq.-ft. lots, which is half the size of the current zoning. “We’re here to defend and protect our existing zoning,” said Jane Rice, who chairs “No Rezoning – Again!” a steering committee of the Foothill Communities Association (FCA). Rice and FCA President Rick Nelson have successfully defeated developers’ past attempts to change zoning. “One of the best attributes of living in North Tustin is the availability of large lots,” said Nelson. “If we allow lots to be continually subdivided, it will be very detrimental to our community.”

NTAC said "no"
Due to density issues and the tract’s proximity to Newport Blvd., the North Tustin Advisory Committee (NTAC) voted unanimously, in December, against a zone change. NTAC functions as an advisory committee to the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

In a show of support for FCA, representatives from other communities, such as Orange Park Acres and Rocking Horse Ridge, attended that meeting. Benford said, “We want the developer and seller to know that we have the support of more than a thousand residents, including those in Lemon Heights and Cowan Heights.”

According to Steve Sheldon of Sheldon Development, LLC, homes in proximity to the site sit on lots much smaller than 20,000 sq. ft., which is what current zoning allows. Despite residents’ insistence that the project stick to that zoning, Sheldon sees it differently. “A common comment by many North Tustin residents,” he said, “is that the proposed community should have homes with 10,000-sq.-ft. minimum lot size. The lots [in this proposed development] will range in size from 10,000 sq. ft. to 14,000 sq. ft.”

But that doesn’t sit well with Benford. “It’s greed over what is best for the community,” she said. “We want the current zoning laws followed.” 

According to Benford and Nickel, they plan to hold rallies on Newport Blvd. at 7:30 a.m. every Thursday until this plan is defeated. They urge neighbors of the proposed project, not just those in Cowan Heights, but impacted residents in Rocking Horse Ridge and Santiago Hills, to sign FCA’s petition at