Proposed Apartments in North Santa Ana Still Opposed by Residents Despite Revisions

BRANDON PHO, Voice of OC

A sign protests a proposed new development at 2525 N. Main St. in Santa Ana.

City officials will revisit a controversial apartment complex proposal in north Santa Ana that the developer has scaled down after public outcry, though nearby residents say the project is still too large and shouldn’t move forward.

The revised proposal for apartments at 2525 N. Main St. will go before Santa Ana Planning Commissioners on Aug. 12, and they could formally recommend the City Council either approve or reject it.

“My hope was that we could make everybody happy,” said Ryan Ogulnick of Vineyards Development Corp., the company behind the proposal, in a phone interview. “I would like to design a project that’s embraced by everybody, but in the end, maybe that wasn’t realistic.”

Ogulnick said the company has “really moved on this” to address public concern.

“I’ve never been involved with a developer taking 40 percent out of their building to accommodate the community,” he added. “I think there will be some people who appreciate that.”

What started out as a project as tall as 90 feet in some areas with 496 apartment units is now 60 feet with 347 apartments, under Vineyards’ revisions.

Although the number of parking spaces under the revisions has shrunk from 904 to 642 parking spaces, there’s still an average of two parking spaces per apartment.

The apartments would sit on a nearly six-acre parcel of land in the city’s Park Santiago neighborhood, across from the Discovery Cube and MainPlace Mall along the Santa Ana Freeway.

Ogulnick said he still plans on spending over $1 million on improvements and maintenance of the neighborhood’s park, as well as hiring 24-hour security to patrol around the building and the entire Park Santiago area.

But the building would still be too tall and parking would remain a problem for nearby homeowners, according to its critics.

“I don’t know why the neighborhood or the residents of Santa Ana have to go on the defensive side to stop this project,” said resident Dale Helvig, who’s helped organize those homeowners against the apartments, in a phone interview.

Helvig said Ogulnick “has all the cards.”

“He gets to change the general plan and change the zoning and change the land use and we have to defend why he shouldn’t be able to,” he added.

Despite the revisions, the visual impact of the project would remain “significant and unavoidable” after efforts to alleviate it, according to city staff.

“It cannot be mitigated to where it cannot be seen,” said city Planning and Building Director Minh Thai in a phone interview. “Even though you have trees … the bottom line is, the project will still be very much visible” from the neighborhood.

City officials’ ultimate decision will come after half a year of protest from Park Santiago homeowners, who formed a group called the North Santa Ana Preservation Alliance (NSAPA) to combat the project and have shown up to multiple City Council meetings to voice their objections to it.

Helvig criticized Vineyards for submitting the revised proposal three days before they had a scheduled meeting with NSAPA where an alternative to Vineyards’ proposal was going to be discussed.

“So, unfortunately, that’s where we’re at,” Helvig said.

Ogulnick said they submitted the proposal before the scheduled meeting because “we had sort of run out of time.”

“We had an obligation to submit both as a fiduciary for our partners and we had a timeline we had agreed on with staff,” he added.

But Vineyards’ submission of the revised proposal doesn’t mean more changes can’t be made to the project, Ogulnick said.

“If I wanted to today, I could make more changes. There is nothing that would prevent us from making them if we elected to,” he said.

In fact, when Vineyards submitted the revised proposal on June 3, the scale was set at 356 apartments until their meeting with homeowners spurred them to downsize further to 347 apartments, according to Thai.

Helvig said regardless of all the changes Vineyards makes to try and accommodate the neighborhood, “this project just isn’t needed” amid an ongoing debate over whether a city with little open space should continue to authorize developments.

“The land space in Santa Ana is fixed. We’re not going to go out and annex Garden Grove or Tustin. We have a fixed land mass we’re dealing with,” Helvig said. “That’s just very simple math.”

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.