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Orange County

District Says Talks on School Halted

September 27, 2003|Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writer

The developer of a controversial housing project in Orange wants "several millions of dollars" more for a school site within the planned development than what the Orange Unified School District is prepared to pay, district officials said Friday.

The announcement is the latest event in the saga of the 110-acre former Sully-Miller Contracting Co.'s sand-and-gravel field in eastern Orange, where a developer wants to build 183 homes and preservationists are poised for a referendum to kill the project.

The school district and developer Fieldstone Communities Inc. have negotiated for weeks on an unspecified parcel of land inside the development where a middle school campus could be built. Officials in the 32,000-student district say a middle school is badly needed in eastern Orange regardless of whether the development is built.

On Friday, the district issued a news release saying that Fieldstone had halted negotiations and that the parties "were not able to reach agreement on a purchase price."

Steve Cameron, president of Fieldstone's Orange County division, said he was surprised by the district's announcement. He said he had told district officials that he would be out of town for a week and would contact them when he returned.

"There is no concrete offer on the table, no specific dollar amount from anybody," Cameron said. "All we are trying to do is understand [the school district's] issues and needs so we can come to a win-win solution."

District officials said they stood by their news release.

Central to calculating the value of the land is whether Fieldstone will be able to develop it. Land with potential for development is worth more. Earlier this month, Fieldstone's project won approval from the Orange City Council, but council members must first change the area's zoning from open space to residential. A vote is scheduled Oct. 14.

Opponents of the project have vowed to call for a citywide referendum if the zoning change takes place. They say the project lies in a flood plain and that methane gas from a landfill next door would make living there dangerous. They want the land preserved as open space.

Fieldstone says the area can be made safe for homes, which would cost from $700,000 to $800,000.

Orange Unified officials argue that the land for the school should be valued as the sand-and-gravel field it is now, and not as potential site for expensive homes.

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