Helvig: Vineyard Development Continues to Force Its Will on Santa Ana

North Santa Ana Preservation Alliance NSAPA

Main Street 8 a.m.

Responsible Development, that’s all we ask.

Vineyard Development Inc. “Vineyard” wants to place a 496‑unit high density apartment complex (90 feet in height) across the street from the Discovery Cube Orange County, one of Santa Ana’s most successful additions, and bordering Park Santiago, a residential neighborhood where over 1065 of 1165 homes, built between 1886 and 1968, meet “historical resource” candidate qualifications [CEQA § 21084.1.].  At 84 dwelling units per acre (DUA), this project would be over twice the density of any project in Santa Ana that is next to single family homes.  This completely ignores one goal of Santa Ana’s General Plan: “Preserve and improve the character and integrity of existing neighborhoods.”  The City refers to this project as 2525 N. Main Residential Development, or “2525”.  While the Discovery Cube has written a letter of endorsement for the project, what choice did they have.  Vineyard is allowing the Discovery Cube the use of their parking lot and it is rumored to be offering them $1 million for a new parking structure.

Vineyard’s plan for 2525 will require the City of Santa Ana to change the zoning from Professional to Specific Development (allowing unlimited height and density) as well a General Plan amendment, a document used to manage development.  At 84 DUA, this project will increase the existing population of the Park Santiago neighborhood by 21%, on a 5.93 acre corner lot. At this time there are 28 projects in various stages of approval/construction/availability, which have or will add 4909 housing units within 0.5 miles of 2525.   This includes the 1900 units slated for the Main Place Transformation project. From a City perspective, the 2525 project will do nothing to lessen the existing density of the most densely populated sections of the City.  Units in those areas are priced well below Vineyard’s planned rents, so the new units will provide no relief to those who need it most.

These cumulative projects will create an additional 32,000 daily trips on our city streets.  This does not count the new business properties also in their planning stages.  Add to that the removal of the carpool entrance and exit at Main, inadequate public transportation to employment locations, existing traffic congestion in this area, and the impact on the health, safety, and quality of life for those living in the area is measurable.  Vineyard would like us to believe that the traffic impact is more for an office space than residential properties, what they ignore is that residential traffic impact is 7 days a week rather than the 5 day work week. In addition, we have never had neighborhood parking issues with our business neighbors.  Vineyard may feel it’s providing more than adequate parking, but the exorbitant rents they plan to charge will encourage increased population density regardless of the leases in place.

This property has always hosted zoning conscious businesses which have provided local employment and been good neighbors, most recently featuring 2-story brick buildings surrounded by parklike grounds including mature trees and water wise plantings.  Since its purchase by Vineyard, and their insufficient investment in security and landscaping maintenance, it has been vandalized repeatedly and allowed to fall into disrepair.  Vineyard says the current buildings are old, out of date, and cannot be repurposed.  I disagree and the draft EIR even calls the existing buildings, “useable structures”.

Vineyard knowingly chose to take the risk to purchase a property for $17 million, which they knew was not zoned for residential use, and to refer to a City map as part of its logic for the purchase while ignoring the text on that very same map which clearly stated, “Note: This map represents a conceptual effort and its contents are in a draft format and do not represent any formal efforts to rezone or redesignate properties shown. Dated November 16, 2015.”  Perhaps that is because they are part of AC 2525 Main LLC, and AC 2525 Main Managers LLC whose managers are Christopher T. Lee and Raymond E. Wirta of the Irvine Co.

The Santa Ana City Council has approved past Vineyard projects such as the The Met, the recently opened Prisma and the still to be developed, The Heritage.  The placement of those projects is entirely different than 2525.  None are directly bordering single‑family home neighborhoods. They may be appropriately designed for their environment, but 2525, despite its many promised upscale amenities, is not.  No matter how you look at it, the planned footprint and potential population is more than the area can successfully bear.

Neither I nor the North Santa Ana neighborhoods are against development.  It just needs to make sense.  Hundreds of Park Santiago and nearby neighborhood residents have shown up at the City’s Sunshine and Planning Commission meetings, as well as local neighborhood meeting to protest this development.  Why?  Because they knew what a tremendous impact 2525 would have on the area.  Vineyard says there is a glut of office space on the market, yet the design of the future Main Place Mall development includes 1.4 million square feet of office space.  If you want to add housing and enable people to lessen their commutes to minimize environmental impacts, the area will need attractive office space. We already have projected additions of over 1800 residential units within a half mile of 2525.  We don’t need to add more high‑density residential developments.  We need to provide local places for all those people to work!

This past June Laguna Niguel voted down the SunPointe project which would have built 60 homes on 19.5 acres, at 3 DUA.  Their City Council refused to amend the City’s General Plan to allow the development after more than 20 residents turned out to fight the project.  According to a local newspaper article, Laguna Niguel Mayor Elaine Gennawey, assured residents she was there to represent them and maintain the city’s General Plan.  I hope that Santa Ana’s Planning Commission and City Council are equally dedicated to the hundreds of residents who have shown up, and will continue to be present, at City meetings, community information meetings, and picketing the property twice a week in shirts that read “NSAPA for Responsible Development”.  We will continue the productive relationship we have always had with the City.

I would like to see the City grow and prosper while putting 2525 to good use as it is currently zoned, providing local employment for all those living in the new and future planned local residences.  I would like to see the City Council and Planning Commission take as much pride in the City’s history as its residents do.  I would like to see the City act responsibly.  It is not the City’s responsibility to ensure a developer makes a profit if they speculated on the land use and overpaid for it.  There are no guarantees for speculation.  Responsible development is about planning for the future and embracing the past.

Dale Helvig has lived in Santa Ana for 28 years. He is the Chair of the North Santa Ana Preservation Alliance (NSAPA)

North Santa Ana Preservation Alliance is a committee of the Park Santiago Neighborhood Association formed in response to the potential detrimental impact of the proposed development at 2525 Main Street.  The North Santa Ana Preservation Alliance (NSAPA) exists to bring the community together to actively engage in advocacy efforts to preserve the historical and architectural significance, vitality, health and thriving community life of Park Santiago and surrounding Santa Ana neighborhoods.  Our purpose will be achieved through education and civic engagement by all interested residents, from whom input will be sought at all times.

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