The Orange City Council Tuesday night formally approved development plans for one of its last areas of open space, and opponents immediately announced they will ask voters to override the decision.

The 4-1 vote ratified a spoken agreement by the council last month to allow construction of 39 houses on the 52-acre site in the northeast section of the city. The no vote was cast by Mayor Pro Tem Tita Smith.

Opponents had wanted the city to require developer John Martin to give the city 7.6 acres of open space that include an equestrian center. Martin agreed to donate the equestrian center, but not the other half of the property.

“We’re going to start the referendum,” said Tom Davidson, spokesman for the group opposing the development.

He said they would begin collecting signatures Saturday and hope to collect 15,000 to 20,000, although only 7,200 are needed to qualify for the ballot.

“It’s so sad that a small group of OPA [Orange Park Acres] homeowners association members are now mobilizing to overturn the five years of negotiations and compromise which led to yesterday’s council decision,” said Diane Gaynor, spokeswoman for Martin.

“I do question their real motivation for trying to overturn a plan which provides the community with so many important benefits — and all for free to Orange citizens.”

Gaynor said Martin was “very pleased” with the council action. “The community benefits associated with the Ridgeline plan are important public amenities provided by the developer and will help maintain the equestrian lifestyle of the OPA community.”

The new homes would be on one-acre lots with horse trails, including a route open to the public.

Once before in 2004, voters in Orange overturned the City Council when it gave approval to a different developer to construct homes in that area.

Davidson said if enough signatures are collected the issue would either go on next year’s primary election ballot or the council may have to call a special election, depending on when enough valid signatures are submitted.

If enough signatures are gathered, Davidson said, the city must hold an election unless the council votes to reverse its approval of the development.

— TRACY WOOD

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