Where is New Housing Going in Anaheim? City Council to Debate 56 New Condos in Anaheim Hills

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

The Serrano commercial center in Anaheim Hills. Nov. 22, 2019.

Anaheim’s debate on where to place new housing may flare up again Tuesday when City Councilmembers decide if they’ll allow 58 condominiums to be built in Anaheim Hills, replacing a small commercial center.  

The property owner is appealing the Planning Commission’s October rejection after dozens of residents protested the development, including Councilman Trevor O’Neil, who represents the area. 

The impending decision comes against the backdrop of the City Council’s 5-2 decision last March that allowed 39 condos to be built on land half the size in a crowded neighborhood the central portion of the city, near city hall. Councilmembers Denise Barnes and Jose Moreno dissented. 

The Planning Commission unanimously denied the Anaheim Hills project in October, which has plans for 58 condos, including 12 for low-income residents. The Commission ultimately sided with dozens of residents who protested the project, including O’Neil. 

“I have a number of issues with this project I want to address. It’s not the typical traffic which can be refuted or the emotional attachment to the commercial center,” O’Neil told the Commission, who represents Anaheim Hills on the Council. 

O’Neil said the proposed 58 condos would need the city to rezone the land to allow for denser housing per acre on the roughly 3 acres of land. 

“We’re looking at a code that requires the project size to be five acres and this is three. And the density — we’re cramming more units in there than our code allows to,” O’Neil said. “The state says if somebody offers building these affordable housing projects, we have to grant them these concessions. Meaning that we have to ignore our code and approve it and allow them to do it.”

In contrast, the Planning Commission and City Council allowed a zone change making way for denser housing on the 39 condos being built on 1.5 acres of land. 

“Anaheim Hills is a master-planned community … and we have limited commercial space that shouldn’t go away,” O’Neil said. “It’s a nice project, it looks very nice, but it’s just not appropriate for the area.”

O’Neil also told the Commission he would recuse himself should the Anaheim Hills project come before the Council for a vote. 

The proposed development, known as The Residences at Nohl Ranch, would replace the commercial center on Serrano Avenue and Nohl Ranch Road. The commercial center has many vacant buildings and critics of the condos said the property owner has purposely underinvested in the center to line up for a housing development. 

“So this property owner — it’s almost as if it was being set up in the beginning, not investing any money in this center in the 10-plus years that they’ve owned it, so that one day they come before this body and say its no longer viable, we need a plan amendment and a zone change,” O’Neil said. 

Many Anaheim Hills residents told the Planning Commission the 58 condos would create too much traffic in the area, which faces morning and afternoon weekday traffic issues because of the nearby Anaheim Hills Elementary Schools. But a report commissioned by the city said traffic would decrease if the land was developed into condos from roughly 1,000 daily car trips to nearly 440. 

The development plans show two driveways into the condos — one on Nohl Ranch Road and another on Serrano Avenue. 

According to the staff report, over 100 people showed up to the Planning Commission meeting and 35 people spoke on the issue, with most opposing the project. 

Last March, the City Council voted for 39 condos to be built in an already crowded, low-income neighborhood, despite pleas from residents to lessen the density of the development or cancel it altogether. The development is known as the Downtown 39. 

None of the 39 condos are geared for low-income residents in the project that’s sandwiched between single-family homes and railroad tracks on 1.5 acres, roughly half of what the Anaheim Hills condo development could be built on. The only way to get into the condos is through a shared alleyway that existing homeowners use to access their garages and back houses. 

Mayor Harry Sidhu also cut down the speaking time on the roughly 20 residents — most of whom spoke against the Downtown 39 project — at the March 5 meeting. 

“Due to the number of speakers for public hearing on item number 15, with the consent of the Council, the time limit to speak for those in the noticed area, including those outside the noticed area, will be reduced to two minutes,” Sidhu proposed.

The residents who live next to the project were supposed to have 10 minutes to make their case to the Council and everybody else was supposed to have three minutes to speak. 

“So I don’t think that’s actually an inordinate amount of folks that are interested in speaking on a really difficult neighborhood issue,” Moreno told Sidhu. 

The speaking time was eventually set to three minutes for everyone at last March’s meeting.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.