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Developer Ryan Ogulnick is scaling down a controversial plan for a large apartment complex in Santa Ana along North Main Street right across from the Discovery Cube, which has been intensely opposed by residents of the surrounding Park Santiago neighborhood.
After two city council meetings, stalled by hours of residents decrying the project in public comments, as well as a mobilized opposition by Park Santiago’s neighborhood association, city council members refused to vote on Ogulnick’s proposal on Feb. 19, instead sending it back to the planning commission for revision.
No date has been set up for the planning commission to revisit the proposal. At the Feb. 19 meeting, council members indicated the planning commission might not revisit the proposal for another three to six months.
That brought Ogulnick to a Monday evening meeting with Park Santiago residents, where he unveiled three different iterations of a plan to downsize the density and number of stories in the apartment complex, originally proposed at five stories and containing 476 units on a nearly six-acre parcel of land.
Ogulnick said none of the three possible plans, some of which include either bringing the project below 400 units or capping it at two or three stories, have been decided on yet.
But “In my 23 years of doing this, we’ve never modified a project to the extent that we’ve modified it tonight,” Ogulnick told a crowd of critical residents, many sitting with arms crossed at the meeting. “We’re here to react to” resident concerns around the project’s potential traffic effects “and be more reasonable than we started,” he said.
Some homeowners thanked Ogulnick for showing his face at the meeting, but there wasn’t a visible shift in attitude amongst a majority of the crowd that evening toward the project, even as Ogulnick told the crowd he plans to spend $1.4 million on improvements and maintenance of the neighborhood’s Santiago Park, as well as hire security to patrol the area.
“I think it’s fair to say that the neighborhood still favors the position of no apartments,” said Rob Richardson, a Park Santiago resident and former city council member, after the meeting.
“I don’t think anybody heard anything last night that makes them want to climb on board,” he added. “The truth of the matter is, the kind of presentation we got last night is the presentation we needed a long time ago.”
“We appreciated the fact the applicant came in with several plans and took the time to talk with us,” said Dale Helvig, a member of the North Santa Ana Preservation Alliance, a group that formed in response to the initial development proposal. “We need to study those plans and look forward to continuing with followup community meetings to arrive at a solution that is equitable to all.”
Residents, writing their questions on slips of paper for moderators to read off to Ogulnick, also wanted to know whether it was true that Ogulnick’s team was offering money to Park Santiago residents opposed to the project.
One person asked Ogulnick about an allegation that one homeowner was offered around $30,000 in home improvements outside City Hall during the Feb. 19 council meeting.
“That’s absolutely not true,” said Ogulnick, who also that night denied involvement in the funneling of $300,000 in undisclosed dark money into the 2018 city council and mayoral elections, and denied paying people to speak out in support of the project at the Feb. 19 meeting.
The crowd then erupted into chatter, prompting him to add that what his company has offered, “from day one,” is a budget for home improvements for anyone whose home was affected by the construction of the project.
“So, yes?” the moderator responded.
“Oh my,” replied Ogulnick, chuckling under his breath while looking down, seemingly frustrated by the line of questioning.
When asked by Voice of OC how much money was in that budget for home improvements, Ogulnick said after the meeting that the budget is “flexible.”
“There’s nothing nefarious about it.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.