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Fears for a Slice of Country

Anaheim Hills Fight Over Retail Plan Nears Verdict

June 18, 1998|DEBRA CANO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In spring and summer, Marilyn Hauk buys fresh-picked strawberries, corn and other produce from a rustic stand at Santa Ana Canyon Road and Via Cortez.

The fall brings a pumpkin patch to the Anaheim Hills lot; every December, Christmas trees appear for sale.

"It's part of our tradition," said Hauk, a 21-year Anaheim Hills resident who frequently stops at the local landmark.

While residents like Hauk said they realize the strawberry fields can't stay forever, they are upset at the prospect of seeing a shopping center and storage units springing from the last major chunk of farmland left in the hills.

For the time being, the 24.5-acre site is dotted with fragrant orange groves, field crops, a ranch house and barn and towering eucalyptus trees. It's all that's left of a sprawling ranch once owned by the late Hazel Maag.

"We know the developer has the right to develop his property, but not to the detriment of the community," said resident Debbie O'Neill, whose father built homes 25 years ago next to the ranchland.

GME Development of Irvine is proposing a 243,180-square-foot shopping center, with stores selling electronics, books, clothing and sporting goods. The proposal also includes a fast-food restaurant, with a drive-through lane, and 170,000 square feet of self-storage space.

The proposal has sparked more debate in Anaheim Hills than any other project in recent years. Residents say they don't want to lose their beloved produce stand; they cite concerns about added traffic congestion.

In April, residents formed a group called Concerned Citizens of the Canyon to fight the project, which had just gained approval from the Anaheim Planning Commission. The project will be considered Tuesday by the City Council.

Group members have been working nonstop in preparation for the vote: They gathered signatures from 1,500 residents opposed to the development, circulated 22,000 fliers in neighborhoods and planned two mass mailings.

Responding to the opposition, representatives of the development company have been meeting with residents and have said they are considering eliminating the self-storage units and fast-food restaurant.

"We're serious about discussing those options based on the opposition in the community," said Martin Hannigan, a partner of GME.

Instead of the storage units, the company said, it intends to propose about 25 single-family homes on a slice of the ranchland next to the existing housing tract off Solomon Drive, Hannigan said. Other modifications could include naming the project Maag Ranch and constructing a ranch-themed building fronting Santa Ana Canyon Road.

Hannigan said there are no plans to reduce the size of the shopping center, which would contain 10 major tenants plus smaller retailers.

O'Neill, president of Concerned Citizens, said the proposed revisions are "very good for the community. Nobody wants to see anything built on that land, but something at some point will be built there. And I must say that this developer has listened to what the community is requesting.

"I think all parties have worked extremely hard to get to this point."

But some points remain in dispute.

Most residents prefer homes on the land. The city's General Plan for the parcel designates about 21 acres for housing and about 4 acres for commercial use. The proposed new plan would include about 21 acres of commercial and 5 acres of housing.

"We don't need another shopping center of that nature," said Linda Denmark, a 15-year hills resident. "It doesn't fit in with the community. If we need more shopping, let's fill the centers that we have and not have a center that will bring outsiders into our area."

Hannigan said his company is prepared to spend about $850,000 to minimize traffic problems from the shopping center.

"We're committed to working with the neighborhood as best we can," Hannigan said.

The public hearing Tuesday is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the council chambers, 200 S. Anaheim Blvd. Information: (714) 765-5166.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

NEIGHBORHOODS

Commercial Site

Bounded by: Santa Aa Canyon Road on the south, Riverside Freeway on the north, Solomon Drive on the east, and Via Cortez on the west.

Population: An estimated 54,000 people live in hills area east of the Costa Mesa Freeway. Residents and some Anaheim council members believe the 24.5-acre project would affect the entire hills area.

Hot topic: Proposal to build a shopping center and self-storage yard. Plan may be modified.

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