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Fairness on Growth

April 12, 1987

Of all the places in Orange County where growth and no-growth interests collide, Newport Beach is fast emerging as the main battlefield. Last November opponents of a development plan for the Newport Center climaxed a petition drive with an election that reversed the city council's approval of the Irvine Company's plan for additions to the center.

The same forces that led that petition drive are gearing up for another confrontation, this time to reverse the city council's approval last month of a nine-story building on MacArthur Boulevard near the John Wayne Airport that would include offices, retail shops, a restaurant and a health club.

This time, however, opponents are not stopping at a referendum to merely reverse the council's action as they did in the Newport Center issue. The new petition drive will be an initiative aimed at preventing all high-rise commercial buildings by restricting owners from putting up a building covering more than 50% of a site's land area.

In the MacArthur Boulevard project approved to replace a two-story bank building, city officials, after two years of planning and negotiations, reduced the requested square footage by 61% and the stories from 11 to nine and secured the developer's agreement to institute flex-time scheduling for the building's employees and to pay for nearby road improvements to help cut traffic congestion.

Seeking ways to ease the growing traffic problem must certainly be part of every land-use plan. The changes and conditions imposed indicate that the city was well aware of that in its effort to balance property rights and public concerns in the use of that land.

It's difficult to draw a fine line in managing commercial development, but care must be taken not to use a shotgun approach that sets arbitrary limits that can't fairly or effectively be applied--or that creates a de facto moratorium on commercial construction.

The system provides a general plan, zoning laws, professional staff planners, a planning commission and the elected city council to make informed decisions on specific building projects. It requires public hearings to keep residents informed and active in the decision-making process. And city voters can override council actions that they don't agree with, just as they did last November on Newport Center, and can elect council members who reflect their ideas on growth. That's far better than hamstringing property owners and planners with an inflexible formula that removes half their acreage from development.

(Please turn to the Orange County Section (Part II) for additional editorials on Orange County issues.)

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