By Tina Richards
The Orange Park Association Board recommended a “no” vote on the 128-unit Trails at Santiago Creek housing project proposed for the Sully-Miller property in East Orange, following a public hearing, April 8.
The board is tasked by the City of Orange to provide recommendations to the planning commission on projects within Orange Park Acres. Approximately 39 acres of the project site fall within OPA and are governed by the community’s Specific Plan. Although the city’s General Plan identifies the property as “resource – sand and gravel,” the OPA plan designates it “open space.” The East Orange General Plan, which covers another 37 acres of the property, also calls it “open space”
To enable tract housing, the City of Orange will have to amend both plans with residential zoning designations.
Can you hear me now?
The unanimous OP Association Board decision followed an hour and a half of public comments delivered at the scheduled hearing. Ninety percent of the speakers, including residents of neighboring Mabury Ranch and The Colony, opposed the project. They cited the mandates of the specific plans, the inadequacy of two Draft Environmental Impact Reports (DEIR), increased traffic congestion and the inhospitality of the property itself. A former sand and gravel mine, now a repository for construction dirt, the property is on a flood plain, abuts a methane gas field, is riddled with deep silt deposits and harbors unknown waste materials.
One OPA homeowner, two from Mabury Ranch and one from The Reserve supported the project, noting that developer Milan Capital was offering benefits to the community in exchange for development rights, and that the 128-home proposal was better than the dirt-dumping and stockpiling that exists there now.
Milan consultant Frank Elfend was invited to the hearing, but did not attend. It is customary for a project representative to appear at such public hearings to present the proposal and answer questions. Elfend, instead, sent a letter indicating that he would not be present because Orange Park Acres refused to negotiate with him.
All talked out
Negotiations had, indeed, broken down last year when Milan/Elfend refused to consider a 47-home version on one-acre lots. That proposal, presented by a liaison committee composed of Reserve, Mabury Ranch and OPA representatives, would have nearly doubled the development rights Milan already has on another portion of the property by switching the open space and residential zoning designations between parcels.
A 12-acre section north of Santiago Creek is already designated residential, as is the seven-acre horse arena across the street from the Sully-Miller property. Milan can build houses there without any general or specific plan amendments. Following the developer’s rejection of the 47-unit proposal, Orange Park Acres has declined to continue “counting houses.” It is, instead, encouraging Milan to build where it can and asking the city to adhere to its Specific Plan.
“I see the applicant (Elfend) can’t be bothered to attend tonight,” Board Member Ryan Mongan pointed out, noting that many unanswered questions remain to be addressed. “The liabilities of this development will fall on all of us,” he said.
Laura Thomas referred to the “open space” designation on “page 99” of the OPA Specific Plan. She also cited the developer’s nonresponse to comments on the DEIR raised by the community. “We have no answers yet,” she said, “but the developer wants to move forward.”
Leroy Pendray honed in on the projected truck trips (over 250,000) required to move the mounds of dirt that currently overwhelm the site. “They don’t want to address that,” he challenged. “Nothing will happen until those mounds of dirt are gone. And Milan won’t have to do anything there for 10 years [the possible duration of city approvals].”
Jim Cathcart agreed with his colleagues. “The DEIR has many flaws,” he said. “It needs revision, but not for 128 homes.”
“I’ve taken a good hard look at all the documents,” Board President Don Bradley added. “Sometimes plans get amended, but there needs to be a good reason to do it. This proposal is not that good reason. We’ve gotten no action on our DEIR comments. This developer is not taking us seriously.”
“Milan is not going to build there,” Sherry Panttaja summarized. “Milan is just looking to get a zone change. That’s it. As soon as Milan gets its zoning, it’s going to sell the property to the next bidder. And then we’ll start this process all over again with the next buyer.”
The board voted 6-0 (three members were absent) to recommend a “no” vote to the planning commission. The planning commission may hear the issue as soon as this month.
OPA Board votes to reject
Sully-Miller development plan