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Orange Housing Foes Take Action

After the city OKs a tract next to a closed landfill, opponents step up their campaign to force a referendum.

October 16, 2003|Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writer

Opponents of a housing development in Orange began collecting signatures Wednesday to force an unprecedented citywide referendum that could overturn the city's approval of the project.

On Tuesday, a split City Council passed a series of resolutions giving the final go-ahead to Fieldstone Communities Inc. to develop 183 homes on a sand-and-gravel field in eastern Orange.

The 110-acre site is in a potential flood area and next to the closed Villa Park Landfill, which continues to emit methane gas.

County health officials have concluded that the gas poses little threat and that the risk of flooding is minimal, but opponents say their battle is more than about the project's viability. Orange is becoming overdeveloped, they argue, and open space is a precious commodity that should be preserved.

"This city is just very short on park space," said Shirley Grindle, a resident and longtime community activist who has helped organize the referendum campaign. "This is too important to the future generations of this city to let this happen. We have to fight for this property."

Grindle and others had been campaigning since early September when the City Council gave preliminary approval to the project. But they could not begin gathering signatures until the council officially adopted the necessary zoning changes and approved Fieldstone's environmental reports.

The council's resolutions rezone the land from open space and sand-and-gravel fields to homes and parks.

"We had a piece of property that was nothing more than moonscape," said Councilman Mike Alvarez, who along with Mayor Mark Murphy and Councilwoman Joanne Coontz voted for the project. The development, which also includes 40 acres of nature preserves, miles of trails and a 6-acre sports park, will be an asset to the city, Alvarez said.

Council members Carolyn V. Cavecche and Steven Ambriz voted against the zoning changes. "I dream big," Cavecche said, and "my dream was that the [entire] property would remain open space."

The referendum petitions were printed Wednesday, Grindle said, and volunteers began gathering signatures.

They will officially begin their efforts Saturday morning, she said, with a meeting at the campaign's headquarters on Chapman Avenue. From there, the signature gatherers will go throughout the city in search of registered voters.

They need to gather about 6,000 signatures, or 10% of the registered voters in Orange, in 30 days to put the issue on a ballot.

Steve Cameron, president of Fieldstone's Orange County division, said the company had no immediate response to the referendum campaign.

If Tuesday's zoning changes are reversed by voters, Fieldstone will have the option to modify its plans and submit them again to the city. The home builder is in escrow to buy the property from Sully-Miller Contracting Co.

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