The Fullerton City Council sent a proposal for a 295-unit apartment complex back to the drawing board Tuesday night after hearing from residents who packed the chambers to argue that the development would exacerbate existing traffic and parking issues in a downtown neighborhood.

After a 4-1 vote against the proposed site plan, council members told the developer, Red Oak Investments, to reduce its density of the project and do more to address the parking concerns. The lone no vote came from Mayor Bruce Whitaker, who said he cast his vote out of principle because he likes to vote on complete projects, not ones that need revisions.

The proposal consists of two buildings that would house mostly one- and two-bedroom apartments and allow some retail space in the building that sits on the corner of Williamson and Commonwealth avenues west of downtown. It would also have a parking structures that provide 427 parking spots, which many residents said fell way short of what would actually be needed.

Opponents of the project said the already traffic-stricken area would see a huge uptick in cars trying to turn into the neighborhood off of Commonwealth, which currently has no left turn lane. They also said traffic on Williamson would increase tremendously and pose a danger to families already living there.

Other opponents said the architectural style of the proposal doesn’t fit the older, Spanish-style neighborhood.

“Much of the community is unhappy with the high density projects that are now ubiquitous in downtown … all of these are perceived as overbuilt,” said Jane Rands, who helped organize the opposition.

Meanwhile, proponents said in order to help alleviate the housing crisis that plagues the area, new housing projects must be welcomed because supply and demand would help stabilize or even reduce rent in older buildings as units free up. They also said it would be a shot in the arm for local businesses.

“It is not gentrification, putting lipstick on very poor neighborhoods to make them middle class, pushing out poor residents,” said resident Kathleen Duncan.

“It’s obvious there’s a shortage of housing in Southern California. If you break it down to its basic essence, it is supply and demand,” said resident Chuck Street.

That argument was countered by resident Manuel Walker, who said “increasing this luxury housing stock is not necessarily going to correlate with increasing affordable housing in this neighborhood.”

Derek Kirk, director of community and government relations for North Orange County Chamber of Commerce, said the project would benefit downtown businesses.

“In addition, this development will serve as a catalyst for investment in this portion of the downtown,” Kirk said.

Other residents expressed their fears that this project would normalize high density development in the area.

“It’ll be a catalyst for more of them like it and we need to have a smart plan before we go forward with this kind of thing,” resident Matt Leslie said.

Among council members, only Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald was ready to move forward with the proposal as it stood.

“I am not concerned that this community of 295 beautiful apartments is going to harm the character of Fullerton,” Fitzgerald said during council discussion. “What would harm the character of Fullerton is to continue to not address the housing shortage we have and continue to pack the existing housing.”

She cited Santa Ana as a cautionary tale for not building more housing, saying that city didn’t build anything for nearly 10 years but had a huge increase in residents.

“Just because you do not build it, doesn’t mean that people will stop coming,” Fitzgerald said.

At one point while Fitzgerald was speaking, and man from the audience shouted out: “Where do you live? Why don’t you build it next to your house!”

Councilman Greg Sebourn said he likes that the proposal doesn’t look like a “monolithic block,” but said the lack of parking is a “showstopper.”

“It may be simply reducing units to get you a better parking ratio,” Sebourn said. “I think it’s something that’s an absolute must.”

The proposal is expected to come back to the council in March.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC contributing writer. He can be reached at spencercustodio@gmail.com.

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