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Orange County

Tract OKd Amid Threat to Take the Issue to Voters

Foes say the 183-home project near a dam in Orange poses dangers from methane, floods.

September 10, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

The Orange City Council late Tuesday narrowly approved a developer's controversial plan to build 183 houses near an old methane-emitting landfill, despite threats by opponents to launch a ballot measure to kill it.

"I'm very disappointed," Shirley Grindle, a longtime community activist who opposes the project, said of the council's 3-2 vote. "We are fighting because this location is not suitable for homes -- you could go light your barbecue and you might have a fire in your face. We are already organized to do a referendum; we will meet tomorrow to get it started."

The Planning Commission had earlier deadlocked on the proposal by Fieldstone Communities Inc. to build the homes on more than 100 acres near the Villa Park Dam and the closed landfill, which leaks methane gas. As a result of the deadlock, commission approval was denied and Fieldstone appealed to the City Council.

In addition to concerns about the potentially explosive gas issuing from the former Villa Park Refuse Disposal Station, critics have argued that the site, on Santiago Canyon Road between Cannon Street and the Reserve housing tract, would be in the path of destruction should the earthen dam ever break. The site is also vulnerable to flooding from nearby Santiago Creek.

"People have no idea what could happen," Grindle said regarding the flooding. "Homes should not be built in what was a creekbed in which Mother Nature is still trying to make the creek run."

The plan's proponents have argued that the development will help the community by providing, among other things, miles of equestrian and bike trails, open space, a 6-acre park, wildlife habitat along the creek and $500,000 in seed money for a community center. The developer also has proposed reinforcing the dam and installing devices to vent the methane gas along with undertaking other precautions.

"I can't see how a City Council person or anyone else can turn their back on the project," Fieldstone spokesman Steve Cameron said last month. "Given all the benefits that will be provided at no cost, it will be Christmas in August."

Despite that assertion, however, Grindle said she and several other local activists met with Councilman Mike Alvarez -- considered the swing vote on the matter -- over the weekend to warn that they would oppose him on any future bids for office should he vote in favor.

On Tuesday, Alvarez joined Councilwoman Joanne Coontz and Mayor Mark Murphy in approving the project. Neither he nor other council members could be reached for comment.

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