City of Orange residents packed a planning commission meeting Monday for the first hearing on whether the town should develop one of its last areas of open space.

Discussion at the meeting, attended by more than 200 residents, centered around the very definition of what is open space. The land in question is a 51-acre tract that is now a shuttered golf course that property owner MilanREI IV wants to turn into an exclusive community of one-acre estates.

Supporters of the development say that the land is already zoned for one-acre properties and should go forward. Opponents say the city is short parkland and that the site should not be developed further.

Another hearing on the issue is scheduled for May 17 for those who weren’t able to speak on Monday.

Shirley Grindle, an Orange resident and doyenne of Orange County political reform, described herself as “one of the few remaining old timers” and explained to the commissioners why in 2010, they were dealing with planning decisions made in 1973.

Back then, she said, when she was on the Orange County Planning Commission, she also served on the Orange city committee that drew up plans for the future of Orange Park Acres, at that time a rural area on the eastern edge of town.

Inside Orange Park Acres was a nine-hole golf course that was having financial trouble, she said. Ideally, she said, planners hoped the golf course would be bought by a public agency and kept as open space.

But looking to the future, and fearful that developers would take over the golf course, she said the planners came up with the unusual idea of also allowing it to be used for one-acre residential lots.

And that decision is what caused the packed house Monday night. Working late into the evening, the Planning Commission heard from more than 45 speakers, most opposed to the developer’s plans.

“It’s time the city of Orange stopped letting developers do the planning,” said Theresa Sears, herself a former apartment builder and owner.

“If you build on it now, it will be gone forever,” added another city resident, Debbie Morgan.

Morgan noted that Orange has a shortage of parkland. The city’s master plan calls for three acres of parkland for every 1,000 residents, but the community has less than half of that or 1.42 acres per 1,000 residents.

Opponents of the project were handed large orange circular stickers with the word “rezone” crossed out. Supporters carried green signs or stickers that said “Yes on Ridgeline,” the name of the project.

Ken Ryan, a representative of KTGY Group, architects for the proposed Ridgeline development, said the 39-home project would include trails open to the public. He also said the developer planned a horse arena that only would be accessible by riders, not cars.

An existing arena on Santiago Canyon Road would be turned over to a non-profit agency to be created by the developer.

In exchange for the 1.7 miles of trails, the ride-in arena and the non-profit agency’s holdings, he said the developer should be allowed to skip paying normally required fees to help the city acquire parkland.


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