After hearing an earful during more than an hour of public comment, the Fullerton City Council Tuesday voted 4-1 to postpone rezoning a vacant commercial property for a residential housing plan in the affluent Sunny Hills neighborhood.
The proposal will be sent back to Melia Homes, the development firm, for modifications and brought back to the council Sept. 20. The plan has already been through the Planning Commission three times since March — each time a large number of residents showed up to voice their opposition.
Councilman Greg Sebourn was ready to move forward on the plans until Councilman Doug Chaffee made a motion to postpone and the rest of the council voted to push the housing and rezoning proposal back. Sebourn voted no on postponing the issue.
Other council members cited concerns about the development plans as being too dense, not having enough playground space for kids and there being some architectural aspects that clash with the surrounding neighborhood.
The plans called for 32 housing units on 3.3 acres where two empty medical office buildings now sit, which brings the housing ratio to 9.7 dwelling units per acre. Eight two-story, single-family homes would be built on the north side of the development, with the backyards facing the existing neighborhood Another 24 attached townhouses would be built on the opposite side, bordering Bastanchury Road to help preserve the feel of the existing neighborhood, said Michael Virin, executive vice president of Melia Homes.
The chambers heated up when Councilman Bruce Whitaker called a point of order to increase the public comment time from three minutes to five minutes per speaker “since we’re taking an action here tonight that could last for 80 or 90 years.”
Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald quickly responded that everyone has three minutes.
“I’m calling a point of order, which is going to require the council to vote on this,” Whitaker shot back. “This is a public hearing, we’re here to hear the public.”
Whitaker’s motion failed to get a second, which later proved to be a moot point as most speakers ran over their three-minute mark without interruption.
During public comment, some residents said the plans set the city on a slippery slope that would lead to an increase in similarly dense developments.
“We’re concerned about the transition … to pretty dense housing,” resident Bob Jensen told the council. He also said that it sets a “dangerous precedent” for the area in terms of development.
“I don’t buy into the idea it would be precedent setting,” Sebourn said during council deliberations. He said that there are already some properties that are just as dense, or more, within 2,000 feet of the site. There’s also section 8 housing within that given radius, he said.
Whitaker said he understands the residents’ opposition is not development, but the level of density. He said the proposed plan is five times denser than the surrounding neighborhood.
Councilwoman Jan Flory wasn’t as concerned about the density as she was play areas for children.
“Where are the kids going to play?” Flory asked, noting the many concrete courtyards in the plans. She went on to say “I’m very, very close to supporting this project,” and called the 32 units a “drop in the bucket” compared to the rest of the housing stock in the city.
Like Flory, Councilman Doug Chaffee was concerned about a lack of playgrounds for children. He also said that some of the three-story architectural elements in the townhouses conflicts with the surrounding neighborhood.
“I cannot support it tonight,” Chaffee said. “I don’t like not having a play area for children.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Councilman Greg Sebourn’s vote.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC contributing writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.