Fountain Valley is one of the latest cities to tackle the growing housing shortage crisis throughout the state, with City Council members expected to vote on a new apartment project soon. 

Last week, the city’s Planning Commission approved a mixed use housing development across the street from city hall – a move some city officials say will help meet the state’s mandated new housing goals for cities throughout Orange County. 

And like similar projects approved in other cities, commissioners faced criticism over residents who said the city officials are not going far enough to address their traffic and parking concerns. 

It marks another flashpoint in the housing debate that city councils throughout Orange County have been grappling with.

Fountain Valley Planning Commissioners voiced concerns about the rezoning of the area from “local business” to “mixed use” and how this would affect other proposed projects in the future.

“We aren’t just approving this project. We’re also being asked to approve zoning standards that are not just for this project, but for every other project coming,” commissioner Mary-Ellen Esquer said during the discussion at Wednesday’s meeting. 

She said Wednesday’s vote could help set a zoning precedent for other projects.

“Once we make the decision we’re locked in. We can’t go back and change.”

The proposed building is expected to host 270 apartments — 33 of which will be affordable — in addition to a 5,000 square foot restaurant with outdoor seating and an additional commercial area to include a walk-up coffee bar and an art gallery. 

The highest point of the development will reach at least 73 feet with a six-level parking garage and surrounding buildings that vary from one to five stories.

Biggest concerns from residents included the height of the project, a traffic increase on Slater Avenue and exacerbated difficulties finding parking on the street.

“I’m going to leave fantasy land here for a moment,” Fountain Valley resident Leston Trueblood said, kicking off the two hours of public comments. “The highest point of this project is over seven stories tall … To me personally, this is like trying to put 100 pounds of potatoes in a 25-pound bag.”

Trueblood, among others, emphasized that this project’s height and increase in congestion would diminish the “charm” of Fountain Valley.

Commissioner Azzan Saad didn’t think height would be a problem.

“I don’t think the height is affecting my opinion as far as approving or disapproving this building,” Saad said at the meeting. “Most of the concerns that were stated are legitimate concerns about traffic and parking.”

The parking structure is slated to host 541 parking stalls with only one exit, causing further concern from some residents who fear the line of cars coming in and out of the parking structure.

A traffic study conducted by EPD Solutions, Inc. found that the development would have a “less than significant” impact on traffic on Slater Street, despite resident testimonials that traffic is already difficult on the street and would only increase if the apartment building was built.

Other residents explained that the proposed parking is not enough since Slater Avenue is already nearly impossible to park on. They said the apartment complex will only complicate the problem.

Peggy Tabas from Slater Investment — the applicant for the project — clarified that more than half of the units in the proposed building would only include one bedroom and the remaining consisted mostly of two-bedroom units, making the 541 parking stalls adequate for the 270 units.

Complex 10231 in Fountain Valley on March 11, 2022. Credit: PONO VAN DUSEN, Voice of OC

Other residents supported the development to create more housing opportunities for young professionals in the city.

Meanwhile, some planning commissioners thought the project would be helpful for Fountain Valley to reach the state-mandated new housing goal – an issue cities across OC have been grappling with

Orange County cities have to zone for more than 180,000 new homes in roughly the next eight years, as part of the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA).

​​Over 75,000 of those homes have to be designated for very low income to low income households. 

State housing officials are calling on Fountain Valley to zone for 4,839 new housing units with 2,093 slated for very low income to low income households.

“The state will start fining us once we don’t reach the RHNA — anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 a month,” commissioner Richard Lopez said at the meeting. “That puts us in a really bad spot. We’re trying to reach the RHNA, we’re trying to do the general plan and we’re doing the best we can.”

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC News Intern. Contact her at ahicks@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.

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