Sherry Lee Meddick and other residents of the eastern part of the city remember the days when they could drive down Santiago Canyon Road and see miles of rolling hills.
"Now I see a block wall and a sea of roofs," Meddick said, referring to the Santiago Hills development.
Within 20 years, more houses and businesses will go up on the hills where cattle now graze. The Irvine Co. plans to build up to 12,350 homes, businesses, parks, schools and recreational facilities on 7,110 acres east of Orange.
The 11-square-mile project, running along each side of Rancho Santiago Boulevard and including Irvine Lake, will include four activity centers containing businesses and community services surrounded by residential neighborhoods.
When complete, the development is expected to increase the city's population by one-third and its size by almost one-half. It is the largest development in Orange's 101-year history, according to David Hart, vice chairman of the Planning Commission.
Plans call for four or five development phases, with areas being annexed as they are built, said Vernon Jones, administrator of the city's development services division. Construction will probably begin in about two years.
The Irvine Co. and the city, which have worked together for almost four years, unveiled the latest version of the East Orange General Plan at a Planning Commission public hearing Thursday.
Some who attended praised the plan.
"Fifteen years ago, I never would have guessed I'd be standing up here endorsing a development project in Orange County, least of all for the Irvine Co.," said Peter Bloom, vice president of the Sea and Sage chapter of the Audubon Society. "But I'm going to do just that tonight."
Bloom said the group worked closely with the Irvine Co. and supports the plan now that development has been reduced near Irvine Park and the proposed Limestone Canyon Regional Park.
In addition, the Irvine Co. will preserve several hundred native oaks and is declaring the oak as the project's theme tree.
The company will also work to protect a great blue heron rookery on the north shore of Irvine Lake. Environmentalists determined that herons sighted in other parts of the county nest at Irvine Lake.
Others in the audience were not as pleased, however.
Meddick, of the Rural Canyon Residents Assn., criticized the Environmental Impact Report for not thoroughly studying the project's effect on deer, mountain lions and other mammals.
Joel Kuperberg, attorney for the Serrano Irrigation District, complained that the EIR does not adequately address the project's effect on water quality in Irvine Lake or in the Santiago Reservoir, which provides drinking water to almost 10,000 Orange County residents.
"It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what the impact will be," Kuperberg said. Toxins from cars and chemicals used on landscaping will drain into the lake and pollute the drinking water, he said.
Irvine Co. officials said the development's effect on water quality will be studied in more depth in the specific plan, which will be formulated after the general plan is approved by the city.
City and Irvine Co. officials said roads will be included, adding that the project is tied to the completion of the Eastern Transportation Corridor.