Compromise for Santa Ana Heights Gains

Times Staff Writer

Throwing out three previous redevelopment plans for the community adjacent to John Wayne Airport, the county Planning Commission Tuesday recommended a new compromise for Santa Ana Heights that would displace 206 homes but retain a small equestrian neighborhood in the heart of the noise-plagued community.

The plan, designed to retain a vestige of Santa Ana Heights' unique rural flavor while converting much of the area to business parks, appears to have won grudging support from residents who have been warring over the community's future since jets first began frequent flights from the airport more than a decade ago.

"I am satisfied this plan comes as close as we'll probably ever come to any kind of true compromise on this issue," Commissioner Tom Moody said before the vote.

The Board of Supervisors will consider the Planning Commission's recommendation Feb. 26, when it takes final action on an expansion plan that would eventually allow up to 73 daily flights at the airport. Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, whose district includes the airport, has already indicated he favors any plan that can win widespread support from residents.

Planning for Santa Ana Heights, a nearly 40-year-old community wedged between John Wayne Airport and Upper Newport Bay, has had two major goals: compliance with state noise standards, which discourage the retention of homes in areas most affected by jet noise, and accommodation of the conflicting desires of residents, some of whom want to remain, and some who can no longer tolerate the jet noise and want to sell their property to office developers.

Business Parks

The proposal recommended by the Planning Commission calls for the development of business parks within some of the jet noise impact area, converting a total of 206 homes to offices. However, an additional 368 homes in that area would be retained and offered free sound insulation to help dim the noise of overflying jets.

The most controversial region in recent months has been an area of half-acre agricultural lots in east Santa Ana Heights, which county planners say is gradually deteriorating and highly subject to market pressures for office development.

It is that area that many residents have fought to preserve, and the Planning Commission proposal establishes a compromise that would allow a small residential equestrian community to remain along Mesa Drive and Cypress Street, with measures to protect the area from nearby office development by establishing traffic control measures and building setbacks.

Most of adjacent Birch Street would be converted to a business park.

"I want to tell you, I just love this plan," said Martha Durkee, who lives on Cypress Street with an assortment of horses, goats and chickens.

Thinks It's 'Wonderful'

Ciska Stellhorn, president of the Back Bay Community Assn., a group that has fought for preservation of homes in the area, told the Planning Commission, "I think it's wonderful that we've come up with a plan that is so close to what the two groups want and can maybe live with."

Representatives of ABCOM, an organization of homeowners seeking to redevelop their properties, said a majority of their group supports the compromise.

Spokesmen for both sides said there are features of the compromise--mainly involving individual properties--that they are unhappy with, but Riley, in a letter to the planning department Tuesday, said, "There now appears a real possibility of a consensus . . . . You can't know what satisfaction that brings me!"

The commission's vote in favor of the compromise was 4 to 1, with Douglas Leavenworth, Supervisor Ralph Clark's appointee, dissenting. Leavenworth expressed doubt that the residential equestrian community can co-exist so close to new business parks, and urged commissioners to adopt a plan--recommended by the county planning staff--that would convert more than 294 homes to offices.

Riley Proposal Shelved

Agreeing with residents' concerns that it would fragment their neighborhoods, the commission unanimously rejected a proposed compromise offered by Riley last week that would have allowed many homeowners in east Santa Ana Heights to choose whether their property would remain residential or be converted to offices.

The commission also recommended approval of two new developments within Santa Ana Heights, including a three-story office building at the corner of Bristol Avenue and Spruce Street, and a 61-acre development at the community's eastern edge that would include offices, commercial uses, hotels and up to 236 new homes.

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