Thursday, October 4, 2012

Key to the great park debate in Orange may be in decades-old error

Residents of Orange may have noticed that their city has become a bit more orange – and green – lately, as signs opposing and in favor of Measure FF have been posted around town.
On Nov. 6, voters in Orange will choose whether they affirm the city council’s approval of the plan to convert 51 acres of land, formerly the Ridgeline Tennis and Golf Club, to 39 one-acre estates in the Orange Park Acres area.
Opponents of the measure say that the project should not go forward on the basis that when the developers, JMI Real Estate, bough the Ridgeline property, as well as the nearby Sully-Miller Sand and Gravel Mine, most of the land is designated for open space, and only 20 acres for housing.
Within the Orange Park Acres community, there appears to be an overwhelming opposition to the measure. It is hard to walk more than a few yards down the road without encountering yet another sign declaring “Orange Needs Parks,” “Preserve Recreational Open Space,” or “Save Open Space.”
Diane Gaynor, executive vice president and partner of Roni Hicks & Associates, the agency running the Yes on FF campaign, said that this is an issue of protecting the Fifth Amendment rights of the landowner.
“Private property rights are the basis of this story,” she said.
The project worked out between the city of Orange and JMI would result in the developer leaving an amount of land for open space that is over 20 times what is required, as JMI plans to turn Gaynor said. Orange may need parks, but it is not fair to punish one landowner and violate anyone’s Fifth Amendment rights.
Tom Davidson, chair of the Park Planning and Development Commission of Orange and the former president of the Orange Park Association, which drove the campaign against the Ridgeline project, believes that the land was meant for recreational space for the public.
“The council didn’t stand up for what [the land] was zoned for,” Davidson said.
The lesser-known key to the great debate over recreational space may actually be a decades-old record-keeping error.
Opponents of the measure say that the land is zoned only for “open space” according to the city’s General Plan. This would mean that allowing one-acre estates on the property would violate a plan that should supersede all else, Davidson said.  
Supporters argue for the landowner’s right to build the estates based on evidence, including an investigation and public letter by then-City Attorney David A. DeBerry, that, despite a mistake on a General Plan map approved in 1973, the land was intended for both “open space” and “low-density,” which the one-acre estates would be in compliance with, Gaynor said. That designation was made to protect against building town homes, condominiums and commercial developments on the land.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert Moss recently confirmed that the land was intended for this dual use and ordered the measure off the ballot, but this decision was appealed, Gaynor said.
“The Court of Appeal decided to hear the appeal which placed Judge Moss' ruling on ice,” she said. This then placed measure back on the ballot.
The Orange Chamber of Commerce is one of the supporters of the Yes on FF campaign.
We support the decision made by the planning commission and the city council to move this project forward. In addition, our Board of Directors reviewed the project and felt it was a good project,” President and CEO Heidi Larkin-Reed said in a statement on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce.
Davidson argues that even if the designation was originally an error, the city has had two opportunities, one in 1985 and one in 2010, to correct it, and chose not to. It was not until the economy tanked and the error caused loss for the developer that the game plan was changed, he said.
“It shouldn’t rest on the citizens of the city to take that loss,” he said.
Orange resident Jake Sanderson, who lives near Orange Park Acres and passes the land frequently on his way to Santiago Canyon College where he attends classes, will vote no on the measure based on what he has witnessed living in the area.
“The people who live in this area use it to ride horses, exercise and many more things and I have seen nothing but ‘No on Measure FF’ signs up there,” he said. “I support more parkland and open space to the public to use for their own use in terms of events like sports, individual exercise or anything like that.”

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