Sunday, March 12, 2017

Red Oak Development Approved Despite Community Protest

The following will appear in the "City Council Notes" section of the upcoming issue of the Fullerton Observer Newspaper, our only local, independent paper.

At the March 7th Fullerton City Council meeting, Council voted 3-2 to give final approval to the controversial Red Oak Development, a proposed four-story, 290-unit high-density apartment complex on Commonwealth and Williamson Avenues (the former site of Mullahey Chevrolet).  After much public criticism, a public referendum attempt, and some input by Council last month, the developer made a few minor changes to the original plan: decreasing the number of units by five, changing some roof configurations, and other minor design revisions.  There were no changes made to the major concerns of residents: parking and traffic issues this project would create.  Alex Wong of Red Oak Investments called the changes, and the project in general, “Great stuff, special stuff!”

Most of the people who spoke at the meeting, as at previous meetings, were against the development.  Resident Jane Sylvester stated that over 4,200 local residents signed a petition saying they didn’t want this development.  “This is the people of Fullerton,” she said, “If we had another week, we’d have gotten enough to get a referendum.”  By contrast, at a previous meeting, Red Oak representatives cited support of only around 100 residents and organizations.

Major concerns cited by residents had to do with parking and traffic problems this large development would create, as well as it not being consistent with the architecture and feeling of the neighborhood, plus the fact that it includes double the density of housing suggested by the General Plan.  Others expressed concern that their voices were not being heard.  Resident Jane Rands stated, “At every community meeting, study session, and public forum, the community has voiced their concerns, and then found that there were no changes to the project.”

Resident Joshua Ferguson reiterated this sentiment, “Every time a project like this comes up, city staff comes up here and basically makes a pitch for the developer.  They’re not talking for the residents…and then activists and local residents have to come up here and rebut every single thing and it’s getting to be ridiculous.”

Others spoke in favor of the project, like Derek Kirk, director of Community and Government Relations for the North Orange County Chamber of Commerce, of which Red Oak Investments is a member, and Debra Pember of Developer’s Edge and formerly a board member of the Building Industry Association.  Planning Commissioners Chris Gardner and Peter Gambino also spoke in support of the project.

Jane Reifer, the last public commenter, spoke against the project, calling it a “breach of the social pact that unfavorably benefits developers over residents.”  

Council Member’s Silva and Whitaker did not support the development, citing its high density, which does not adhere to the General Plan.  Mayor Whitaker pointed out that, at 60 units per acre, the project is fully ten times more dense than the surrounding neighborhood, adding that “people who live in this area understand that there will be a cumulative impact, as more developments come in,” and that he’d hoped for “more concessions to the neighbors and neighborhood, because they’re going to live with this.”  

Ultimately, Council members Fitzgerald, Sebourn, and Chaffee voted for the development, and Whitaker and Silva voted against it.  Thus, it will be built.

Artist rendering of the proposed Fullerton development.

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