More Than Double the Number of Great Park Homes?

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Great Park Neighborhoods developer Heritage Fields El Toro is seeking to more than double the number of homes surrounding the Orange County Great Park.

The developer is proposing to build 10,700 residential units, far more than the 4,894 units already approved by the Irvine City Council. The developer would reduce the area dedicated to nonresidential uses to mitigate the impacts of the new homes.

The council got its first look at the plan Tuesday afternoon during a study session before its regular meeting.

Heritage Fields is also offering to help fund and build a sports complex at the Great Park. While the details are still undecided, early ideas include several soccer fields, tennis courts and, under a plan envisioned by Mayor Sukhee Kang, a “sports village” with amenities like a hotel and aquatics facility. The complex could total approximately 200 acres, city officials said.

The sports complex would be a major development at the park, which has found itself with an even more uncertain future in the wake of the state’s elimination of redevelopment. The park, which city leaders hope will one day rival Balboa Park in San Diego, had counted on upwards of $1.4 billion in redevelopment funds over 40 years for construction and operations.

City officials say they still believe the park is entitled to the massive redevelopment revenue stream but have acknowledged that it is far from certain whether it will ever be restored.

Emile Haddad, chief executive and co-owner of FivePoint Communities, the Great Park neighborhoods development manager, offered funding for the sports complex at least in part because the developer needs such amenities as a selling point for the new homes.

“We have to tell people what’s going to happen over there, and we can’t tell them we don’t know,” Haddad said.

Council members appointed a subcommittee of Kang and Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway to negotiate with the developer the sports complex plans.

The appointments to the subcommittee are a departure from the past. A similar subcommittee had been composed of Councilman Larry Agran and Kang with the aim of negotiating a more than $100-million plan for sports facilities shared by the park and a proposed high school.

But Kang and Agran did not see eye-to-eye on negotiating tactics, leading to a rare split within the council’s Democratic majority.

Agran had wanted to negotiate a firm monetary commitment from the developer before a council vote to approve construction of the 4,894 residential units. Kang was content to approve the development with the confidence that that the developer would be willing to contribute additional revenue down the road.

Neither Agran nor Kang would acknowledge that the break was the reason Agran wasn’t selected to be on the new negotiating subcommittee. “I’m too old,” Agran said after the meeting.

Nonetheless, Agran did express concern about the pace of the planning approvals for the proposed residential units. The developer is seeking to expedite approval by October. Agran asked for and got assurances from his colleagues that the details of the planning schedule would remain in the hands of the subcommittee.

While on the previous negotiating subcommittee, Agran had said he views approval of construction projects as the city’s bargaining chip to negotiate for public benefits.

Haddad, in an interview with Voice of OC after the study session, expressed concern about Agran’s move to have the subcommittee devise a detailed planning schedule. The tactic of holding back a project to obtain public benefits is not a good approach, Haddad said, particularly in light of the depressed economy.

“That’s yesterday’s way of doing business,” he said.

And Haddad wasn’t shy about pulling the offer to help fund the sports complex if the city delays approval of the proposed residential units. “Honestly speaking, if it goes longer, the deal won’t be on the table,” he said.

So far, Kang and Lalloway haven’t revealed what their negotiating style will be. But Agran was the lone vote against approving the 4,894 residential units, and Lalloway pointed to his own yes vote on the project as an indication that he wouldn’t be adopting Agran’s negotiating style.

“I think the answer to that question is evident by how I voted,” Lalloway said.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek.

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