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Santa Ana OKs Razing of 1920s Building

Council overrules city planners and will let developer tear down structure at 1st and Main and replace it with a pharmacy and lofts.

November 19, 2002|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

The Santa Ana City Council voted Monday to let a developer tear down a 1920s-era building at the entryway to the city's historic downtown and replace it with a pharmacy and four residential lofts.

Overruling its own Planning Commission, the council reluctantly voted 5 to 2 to let the property owner raze the old Central Auto Body Works building at 1st and Main streets and put a Sav-On drugstore in its place.

The decision ends years of turmoil over the fate of the cornerstone property, which has been the subject of a long legal battle between the city and the developer, M&A Gabaee of Beverly Hills.

Most of the council members expressed reservations about the project even as they voted to approve it. But they said they felt they were out of options because of the possibility of additional lawsuits over the development.

"As far as I am concerned, we have no choice here," Councilman Brett Franklin said. "We have been told that we will face financial Armageddon in the downtown if we do not approve this project."

City officials would say only that further litigation brought by the property owner could result in a multimillion-dollar judgment against Santa Ana.

The project is part of a settlement to a lawsuit in which the developer alleged Santa Ana was hindering development. City officials asked that the lofts be added to boost the adjacent Artists Village.

But the Planning Commission last month denied the proposal, citing the loss of a historic building, lack of parking and an adjacent Rite-Aid pharmacy. Commissioners also expressed concern about granting another liquor license in the downtown.

Mayor Miguel Pulido, however, said he would have voted for the project even if there hadn't been a lawsuit. The old building was "a black eye" that will be replaced by "a good project." Council members Lisa Bist and Alberta D. Christy voted against the proposal.

Over the last 10 years, the real estate company has proposed a restaurant, an auto parts store and a small shopping center on the corner -- regarded as the gateway to the city's downtown.

Some believe the city should have purchased the property years ago to give it a larger role in shaping its destiny.

The drugstore and lofts are expected to be completed in mid-2003.

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