A developer's plan to build six residential high-rises in an area Anaheim officials tout as Orange County's future downtown underscores how the county's urban landscape is maturing, planning experts say.
Lennar Corp., which recently bought the former El Toro Marine base, submitted plans to Anaheim in March to build the county's tallest residential building at 35 stories. The project in what is known as the Platinum Triangle also includes a pair of 24-story towers and three 23-story buildings.
At the former military base, Lennar plans to build mostly single-family homes and low-profile condominiums
Even as traditional suburban communities, which have characterized the county for decades, continue to flourish, urban enclaves are on the rise.
In the Platinum Triangle, 807 acres just east of Disneyland, wedged between the Santa Ana Freeway and the Santa Ana River, Anaheim officials envision a bustling urban center with more than 9,000 homes and 7 million square feet of offices and stores.
The area includes the Grove of Anaheim, a concert and meeting hall, Angel Stadium and Arrowhead Pond. The National Football League is considering a stadium at the site as well.
Build-out is not expected for decades, but construction has already begun to replace the collection of parking lots, office buildings and factories.
Stadium Lofts, a 390-unit apartment complex at State College Boulevard and Katella Avenue, began construction in November. The project's first phase, which includes 11,500 square feet of restaurants and shops, will be completed early next year.
Several other Platinum Triangle projects are awaiting city approval, including Lennar's. The approvals are expected to be swift since the area was zoned for such uses when Anaheim revised its General Plan a year ago.
"For decades, most city councils [in Orange County] looked at their cities as more bedroom communities than urban centers," said Councilman Richard Chavez.
"But communities are landlocked, housing needs have exacerbated.... High-rise residential is a reasonable alternative."
It is an alternative that more cities are pursuing.
In neighboring Santa Ana, a plan to build three 23-story apartment buildings at the southeast corner of town is awaiting approval. Another proposed project nearby, with two buildings, one eight stories and the other 18, will go before the City Council on Monday.
The city has approved a 37-story commercial project near downtown, but it has encountered opposition from neighbors and is the focus of a referendum Tuesday .
"What we are seeing right before our eyes is the transition from a suburban environment to an urban environment," said Steve Harding, executive director of Santa Ana's planning department. "It's happened in Los Angeles, in Century City, in the Wilshire [corridor].... It is nothing new, but it is new for Orange County."
New and inevitable, planning experts say. Suburban tract homes will continue to dominate the landscape, but the skyline is likely to rise.
"The county is maturing," said Marlon Boarnet, chairman of UC Irvine's planning, policy and design department. "And a mature community can support many different types of housing."
That is evident in Lennar's projects in the county. The Miami-based company, which built its reputation on cul-de-sacs and two-car garages, is developing a cross-section of projects from Irvine to Anaheim.
Besides the Platinum Triangle plan, which will yield 1,619 homes and include 105,000 square feet of commercial space, the company has joined with landowner Highgate Holdings to develop Central Park West in Irvine's Jamboree corridor.
The 42.8-acre complex will include a 2.2-acre park, a retail center, town homes and a pair of 15-story residential towers. Other developers are nearing completion of two 18-story condominium complexes and two 15-story condominium buildings along Jamboree Road.
Emile Haddad, Lennar's regional president for California, said single-family housing is still the norm in Orange County.
The 3,700-acre former Marine base the company recently purchased has been zoned for 3,400 homes. Lennar is also building more traditional suburban tracts with nearly 2,000 homes at the former Tustin Marine base in partnership with William Lyons Homes.
"Suburban homes are still in our future," Haddad said. "But there is a growing segment of the market that is willing to sacrifice space to be closer to work and entertainment."