A unanimous Irvine City Council delayed voting on whether to overturn the airport commission’s decision that a proposed 15-story hotel and office buildings near John Wayne Airport are too high, go against an airport land use plan and could jeopardize safety.
Developer Greater Far East will have to wait until July 25 to see if the council will overrule the commission because some council members said they didn’t have enough information to decide whether to overturn the Orange County Airport Land Use Commission’s (ALUC) April 20 decision or uphold it.
“I don’t know if there’s enough information in front of me to make a decision,” Councilman Jeff Lalloway said. “The last thing I want to see … is some horrible accident happen out there because of this building that I voted for.”
The five-member City Council will need four votes to overturn the commission.
Although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found there’s no hazard caused by the development, it did find the development would be an obstruction.
The airport commission voted down the project in April.
Airport commission Executive Officer Kari Rigoni told the council if the FAA rules a development is an obstruction, the commission typically opposes that project on safety grounds.
“It would create an unacceptable risk to aircraft flying in this area as well as occupants,” Rigoni said.
Rigoni also said the development was inconsistent with the airport land use plan the commission goes by, even though surrounding cities in the past, like Costa Mesa, have overruled the commission.
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) agreed with the airport commission’s decision.
The Caltrans Aeronatical “division has reviewed the proposed findings provided by the City and has determined the findings are insufficient to warrant this proposed overrule,” read a June 15 letter to the city.
Staff report documents say there are seven other nearby buildings that currently exceed ALUC’s recommended height limit. The staff report also said the flight path cited by the commission isn’t used by large commercial aircraft and only occasionally used by smaller planes and helicopters.
The airport commission said it’s too dangerous to have any building near John Wayne Airport that exceeds 206 feet above mean sea level.
Rigoni said the total effect of tall buildings near the airport could negatively affect operations of smaller aircraft and flight schools.
She also reminded the council of the June 30 Cessna crash on the 405.
“It simply adds unnecessary risk,” Rigoni said.
However, Tim Strader Jr., registered lobbyist for developer Greater Far East, said if it were up to the airport commission, there would be nothing but agricultural fields surrounding the airport.
Strader, who generally repeated information in the staff report, said there are plenty of other buildings in the area that are taller and criticized ALUC’s reasoning. He also said the flight path is rarely used by smaller planes and helicopters and not at all by commercial airliners, so there isn’t a high-level of air traffic over the proposed project site.
“They didn’t tell you the whole story,” Strader told the council, after earlier saying he too is a pilot.
Strader said the commission was made up of airport people who don’t understand city issues because they’re not from Irvine.
“They don’t have any concern about … what’s in the best interest of the city. They’re airport people,” Strader said, who started to name where the commissioners lived, but was abruptly cut off by Mayor Donald Wagner.
“I’m not sure that’s the issue … the issue is safety. I’m not going to let you attack the members of the commission because they don’t live in Irvine,” Wagner said.
Councilwoman Christina Shea said since the FAA didn’t find the development proposal hazardous, she’s okay with it.
Lalloway disagreed, saying the threshold for the city to overrule the airport commission “should be an extremely high bar.”
Lalloway also chastised the lobbyist: “I’m sorry Mr. Strader, I’m never going to denigrate people who give to public service as those (airport commission) members do. I’m glad the mayor cut you off before you were about to talk about them personally.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Pro Tem Lynn Schott said she wants more time to dig through all of the FAA, Caltrans and ALUC findings.
“It is important for us to pay attention at all levels,” Schott said, reminding the council the state created airport commissions to give municipalities advice, even if it goes against the FAA. “I think we do have to pay attention to what ALUC has.”
The two 15-story buildings proposed at the MacArthur Boulevard site between Douglas and Campus Drive will also include 2,089 underground parking spaces.
The development, dubbed “The Landmark,” could bolster revenues for Irvine and help make up for the expected $1.3 million sales tax revenue loss in the 2017-2018 budget.
The 386 room hotel, which will also have ground-level shops and restaurants is expected to garner about $632,000 in hotel tax in the first year of operation. After that, it could generate up to $1.3 million a year, according to the staff report. Also, after the site is fully developed, it’s expected to produce $270,000 annually in property taxes.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC intern. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org