Some Brea residents are concerned a new residential development will worsen their existing struggle to drive through their city near the 57 Freeway because of the daily congestion on Imperial Highway.
It’s another chapter in the housing debate city councils are wrestling with throughout Orange County — balancing the need to meet demand during the housing shortage crisis, while looking out for existing neighborhoods’ quality of life.
It also brought other crucial debates around town into focus, like local school overcrowding and whether the city’s aesthetic needs to modernize or double down on making its small town nature a drawing point.
Brea’s Glenbrook community — just east of the 57 Freeway — only has two exits: an eastern one onto Associated Road and one northern onto Birch Street.
However, the congestion and increased traffic on the streets make it difficult for Glenbrook residents to enter and exit the community, oftentimes forcing residents to take long detours just to go to the store or get onto the freeway.
Now, residents say a proposed eight-story housing development and zoning change will only add to their traffic woes. The development proposal would replace a local movie theater just south of Glenbrook with a 243,112 square-foot mixed-use building.
The Brea Planning Commission debated the project for nearly four hours Oct. 26 and voted unanimously to move the official decision on the project to the Nov. 9 meeting.
But that hearing was moved back to Dec. 14, following a request from the developer.
On Tuesday, commissioners are expected to decide whether or not to recommend the item to the city council.
During public comment at the Oct. 26 meeting, over 20 residents voiced their objections to the proposed development, while others stood outside due to COVID-19 capacity restrictions.
Brea resident Christine Denbo told planning commissioners she fears the project would increase traffic congestion.
“We know the traffic study is not accurate,” Denbo said. “We know that the movie theater has been closed for years. Everyone in this room knows this project will bring additional cars and traffic. It’s a fact.”
Many residents said they didn’t mind the type of proposed housing development, but the location doesn’t make sense due to the already busy nature of the area.
David Roseman, the city’s traffic engineer, said the project will not impact traffic based on a study the city conducted.
Since the project would replace a movie theater — which can hold many more people than the proposed development — the study found that traffic in the afternoons would actually be reduced, Roseman said.
However, the theater has been closed for nearly two years, and residents say that traffic and parking issues exist without the theater in operation.
“I do not want to look out my bedroom window and see an eight-story monstrosity of a building,” Brea resident Carolyn Dail said at the meeting. “Coming off the 57 Freeway into Brea, this plaza is what everybody sees. Is this how we want to present Brea to people coming off the 57? With an eight-story structure in a town that’s basically mostly three-story buildings?”
The plan for the structure calls for 189 residential units, 21,355 square-feet of office space and a parking garage with 397 spaces in an eight-story building at 1639 Imperial Highway in the Brea Plaza.
Waad Nadhir — the applicant for the development project — is the president of BOSC Realty Advisors, a Michigan-based realty developer that has owned the Brea Plaza for 30 years.
Nadhir’s presentation at the Oct. 26 planning commission meeting said his highest priorities, especially after meeting with Glenbrook residents in August, are potential traffic congestion and parking issues.
Roseman said that the city is required by law to use the national average for movie theater occupancy when conducting the traffic study. Although the theater has been closed, the study was conducted as if it was a popular spot in Brea that brought in a lot of patrons.
But residents were critical of the traffic study and largely said the project would further worsen traffic that already affects them on a daily basis.
Some goals Nadhir listed in his presentation were to not only increase housing, but increase pedestrian circulation, modernize the property and create an affordable gateway for young families to enter Brea.
A number of residents, like Marlene Sims who has lived in Brea since 1987, spoke against the modernization. Sims said the small-town feel is a major draw for Brea residents, and they don’t want to see their city change anymore than it already has.
The project will also include 19 affordable units and 15 “co-living” units — which are defined as three- or four-bedroom units for roommates to live together, each with their own bedroom and bathroom.
Nadhir said the design allows strangers to be placed in the same unit, but rent their own space and split the overall cost, a process he calls “affordable by design.”
The rest of the units will be market rate.
Another concern is how the project will impact local schools.
“I have two kids. One is at Country Hills and one is in Brea Junior High,” said Zubin Chichgar, an 18-year Glenbrook resident who also spoke at the meeting. “They are both impacted. If you don’t believe me, ask any resident who has kids in either of those schools. Country Hills cannot afford to have any more kids in there … They are over their limit; so is Brea Junior High.”
Robyn Neufeld, a Glenbrook resident who ran for city council in 2020 and came in fourth place, said her two sons already struggle due to overcrowding.
Neufeld said her older son’s five-minute drive to high school takes 30 minutes due to the traffic and her younger son doesn’t eat lunch most days because the line is too long.
“I’m looking toward the future,” Neufeld said. “By the time this gets done and you have other children at the junior high and the high school, it’s going to be affecting them, so we need to look toward the future.”
Nadhir said he is paying the necessary fees to address the increase in children at the local schools.
Chichgar emphasized that no decisions should be made until city officials sit down with residents for an in-depth discussion on the issue.
Additionally, Chichgar said that city officials seemed to be hinting at taking the developer’s side in the matter during discussion.
“It really seems like to the audience that you are taking sides of the developer rather than looking at what the community is trying to tell you,” Chichgar said.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC News Intern. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
This story was updated to reflect the developer’s request to hold the planning commission hearing Dec. 14.