A boy rides his bike through the Palm Courts Arts Complex at Irvine's… (Christina House, For The…)
Thousands of new homes could be built along the perimeter of a retired Marine base in Orange County that officials envision being turned into one of the nation's great urban parks, according to a proposal being considered by city officials in Irvine.
The proposal from developer Fivepoint Communities Inc. would more than double the number of residences that would be built on the property surrounding the Great Park by changing the zoning of land that had been marked for commercial use and offices, city officials said.
In exchange for doubling the housing to more than 10,000 homes, the city could potentially receive up to $200 million from the developer.
But even that falls far short of the $1.4 billion in future Great Park redevelopment funds that were redirected to the state to help plug California's ballooning deficit.
Those funds made up much of the money that was to be tapped over the next 45 years to turn roughly 1,000 acres of the old base into urban parkland that would feature a rugged man-made canyon, lakes, orchards, meandering pathways and dozens of athletic fields.
Park supporters promised voters in a countywide election 10 years ago that the property would one day rival San Diego's Balboa Park or even Central Park in New York City.
On Tuesday, the city released a draft of an environmental impact report that found that the added homes would have "less than significant impact" or no impact at all on wildlife, aesthetics, noise and natural resources. City officials described the report as a first step in the evaluation process.
Despite financial issues the park has faced, City Councilman Larry Agran called it misleading to say that accepting the proposal would be "essential for the development of the park." But he added, "Any development surrounding the park is helpful to the park and the city itself."
Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway has encouraged the city to explore other alternatives, such as public-private partnerships or selling off portions of land intended for the park. "There are options other than just this deal," he said.
In the past, Lalloway mentioned such partnerships as the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater's anticipated move to the Great Park and a practice facility for the Anaheim Ducks hockey team.
Lalloway, who has been a critical voice in discussions about the park's development, said he believes the ambitious park "cannot be built."
"The initial promise cannot be kept," Lalloway said. "The whole thing's unfortunate."
"The fact of the matter is, the Great Park will be built," he said. "It may take longer than 20, 25 years, maybe 30 or 40 years. We're making progress, and major construction is underway right now at the Great Park."