By Sentry Staff

While many East Orange residents accustomed to the quiet, uncongested nature of their communities brace themselves for more  traffic  and  the  increased population introduced by 1,180 new housing units slated to be built on the gentle hills at Santiago Canyon Road and Jamboree, the rest of the city rejoices.

The Santiago Hills II tract, approved by the city council July 12, is 416 houses smaller than a version previously OK’d in 2005. It is 3,820 shy of the units that would have followed Santiago Hills II, stretching all the way to Irvine Lake. Instead of a mix of townhomes, apartments and single-family units, the revised plan is mainly single-family homes.  A few townhomes may be built at the southern end of the property.

The Irvine Company (TIC) once owned all the land “out east,” stretching from North Tustin to Anaheim Hills.  Irvine CEO Donald Bren donated 20,000 acres to the county in 2010, and another 2,500 acres in 2014.  The land, deeded to be held as open space in perpetuity, is now governed by conservation easements and nullified development plans that would have extended six miles along Santiago Canyon Road.

Regaled with trails

To complete its last stand in East Orange, TIC has agreed to numerous concessions to satisfy the community and the city.  The company agreed to include three miles of new trails, reconstruct the Puma Trail, and complete a 10-mile circuit that will connect four regional parks (Peters Canyon, Irvine, Santiago Oaks and Weir Canyon).  In addition, a paved bikeway, originally planned to bisect Peters Canyon Park, will be relocated to follow the ridge, starting behind the fire authority at Jamboree and Tustin Ranch Road. The Irvine Company is setting aside a right of way that it will deed to OC Parks when funding for the bikeway is identified.

The Irvine Company is not building a new school, but once grading begins, will pay a $9 million fee to OUSD to offset increased enrollment at existing area schools.  It will also widen the portions of Santiago Canyon and Jamboree that border Santiago Hills II to six lanes, and install two new traffic signals on each road. To minimize congestion, TIC has agreed to install a fiberoptic system to synchronize the signals at Jamboree and Santiago Canyon Road, and will give the City of Orange $1 million to continue the cabling from the 241 to Cannon.

TIC will also give the city $350,000 to purchase a brush fire engine for the station across the street from the development. Another $4.5 million will be given to the city for park purposes.

Congrats not complaints

“I want to thank The Irvine Company for its willingness to work with OPA on the trail system to ensure connectivity,” Orange Park Association President Laura Thomas said at the public hearing on the subject.  “We in the east are pleased with the reduced number of homes,” United Neighborhoods of Orange President Tom Davidson agreed. “We got some nice things out of this for the city.”

At 1,180 units, Santiago Hills II will, however, more than double the size of the current Santiago Hills community and produce 11,000 new car trips per day. “It’s going to destroy our commutes,” one disgruntled Santiago Hills resident posted to a neighborhood website. “If I wanted to live in Irvine, I would have moved there,” another wrote.

Precise tract grading is not expected to begin until next year.  The Irvine Ranch Water District must first build an above-ground reservoir and install piping to serve the new development. That work will likely commence by this fall.  Actual construction is anticipated to begin two years hence, with model homes opening in 2018. Build-out is expected to last three to five years.

Santiago Hills II development could have been worse

The Irvine Company first graded the land that would become Santiago Hills II about 10 years ago. This is a photo of how the property looked at that time. (File Photo)