Santa Ana Approves High-End Apartment Development

The Santa Ana City Council approved a 278-unit, high-end apartment development in south Santa Ana known as The Met, despite concerns from some council members that the proposed apartment buildings weren't tall enough.

Councilman Vincent Sarmiento voted for the development only after the guarantee that a planned, 0.6-acre vacant lot would be expanded to 0.8 acres. The hope is that a much taller high-rise would be developed on that lot sometime in the future.

Sarmiento and Councilman Carlos Bustamante, who was the only no vote, alluded to an unfulfilled vision of the affluent area, known as MacArthur Place, as a corner of the city that was supposed to elevate the Santa Ana skyline. Only the 25-story twin Essex apartment towers wound up being developed, Sarmiento said.

“What's unfortunate is all that's left of that vision are the two towers,” Sarmiento said.

Ryan Ogulnick, CEO of project developer Vineyards Development Corp., declined to answer questions from reporters after the meeting, saying that he couldn't interfere with dinner plans to celebrate the City Council approval.

City planning commissioners and staff had had a number of hang-ups with the project, and Planning Director Jay Trevino said he would have recommended against the project only two months ago. Among other issues, city officials had objected to the unit mix — which they believed included too many one-bedroom units — and the amount of open space, which as originally proposed was below requirements in the city code.

In a February Planning Commission meeting, commissioners deadlocked 3-3 vote on the project. One commissioner was absent.

The developer has since partially remedied concerns by reducing the number of units, including additional open space and changing the unit mix to include more two- and three-bedroom units, according to a staff report. A swimming pool was enlarged, and a business center was added, city officials said.

Bob Bisno, a developer also involved in the project, said in a recent interview that the developers also included a dog park in their plans and “the finest public art in Santa Ana.”

Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez, the project's strongest proponent on the City Council, said that the city shouldn't demand too much from the developer, particularly in light of criticism that Santa Ana is a difficult place to do business. She also pointed out that there has been no resistance from residents or the project's neighbors.

“We should be cautious,” Alvarez said, warning that city officials shouldn't be “borderline capricious” in their demands.

According to the Orange County Register, Bisno donated at least $20,000  to the campaign supporting the 2008 approval of Measure D, which extended council members allowable time in office by a third four-year term. At the time, Alvarez was the only sitting council member who had served two terms.

Alvarez is rumored to be considering challenging Measure D and running for a fourth term.

Bisno, however, said he had no knowledge of Alvarez's intentions. “I would expect she would, but I wouldn't know that,” Bisno said. “I would expect that all the council members would want to run for more terms.”

— ADAM ELMAHREK

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