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Housing Plan in Fullerton Is 380-Acre Balancing Act : Development: Open space must be weighed against density of neighborhoods in a Unocal subsidiary project that is the largest to come before the City Council in two decades.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The City Council on Tuesday will decide whether to allow an oil company subsidiary to transform 380 acres of grassy hillsides and waning oil fields into a mix of homes, parks and a championship golf course. It is the largest single project proposal to come before the city in two decades.

The project’s fate, observers said last week, will hinge on whether the City Council believes that the proposal by the Unocal Land & Development Co. includes a fair balance of open space and densely populated neighborhoods, a dilemma that has plagued development proposals here as Fullerton becomes nearly built out.

“What you gain on the merry-go-round, you lose on the swings,” said City Councilman A. B. (Buck) Catlin. “It’s a trade-off. Somewhere there’s a middle ground.”

As proposed, two-thirds of the project would be devoted to open space such as parks, a 17-acre youth sports complex, hiking and biking trails and the 187-acre East Coyote Hills Golf Course, creating what Unocal officials call a “greenbelt” throughout the development. The proposed 883 housing units would be confined to 121 acres, or about 32%, of the project’s land area.

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“This represents the evolution of thinking of land development in Fullerton, which is you would cluster homes together to preserve open space,” said Susan Zepeda, chairwoman of the city Planning Commission. “It’s open space at the expense of having a back yard, which I was used to when I was growing up.”

The proposal also calls for Unocal to set aside 99 acres of land for the California gnatcatcher, including 44 acres that would be re-vegetated as part of a pilot program. Seventeen of the small birds--a candidate for the federal endangered species list--are known to inhabit the land. The re-vegetation proposal is pending U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approval.

After a public hearing in which 150 residents filled its chamber, the Planning Commission on Oct. 25 unanimously approved the project, with the recommendation that Unocal significantly decrease the density of a neighborhood proposed for the project’s northwest end.

The project, in an area bounded roughly by Harbor Boulevard on the west, Bastanchury Road on the north, State College Drive on the east and Skyline and Ladera Vista drives on the south, would be built over the next 25 years on one of the last undeveloped parcels in the city.

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The project area is already surrounded on all sides by residential neighborhoods, putting pressure on Unocal to makes its project compatible with the surrounding community. Since its proposal was unveiled in 1988, Unocal has hired a public relations firm, held neighborhood meetings and sent newsletters on the project.

Sports enthusiasts and parks officials have praised Unocal for setting aside land for a golf course, a sports complex and hiking trails, which some residents in the area say are badly needed. Some residents at the southeast end of the project have supported plans to build homes on custom lots near their semirural neighborhoods.

“The population has gone up, the city’s revenue is down and the number of fields has decreased,” said Rick Feuchter, who lives at the south end of the proposed project. “The ideal world would be if Unocal put in an 18-hole golf course and sports fields and didn’t build one house. But we all know a compromise has to be made here.”

Still, Unocal officials have met vocal opposition from residents at the northwest end of the project, where it plans to build a mix of 490 condominiums, apartments and townhomes on 36 acres.

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Nearby homeowners say the area would be too dense and they fear traffic congestion, increased air pollution and an overall decline in property values. Some residents have also argued that the sports complex would add to the headache because of glare from lights at night and the noise of public-address systems.

“We’d like to see a very balanced project that benefits the entire community,” said Jerry Younker, president of the North Fullerton Homeowners Assn., which represents 900 residents. “Ours is not a not-in-my-back-yard attitude. We would still be concerned if (the dense) area were over on the east side of the project.”

The Planning Commission and city planners have recommended that Unocal build no more than 367 homes there. City planners have proposed that the company shift 123 of the housing units to the east side of Brea Boulevard, where most of the project is concentrated.

Unocal officials say their proposal is based on a projected demand for lower-cost townhomes, condominiums or rental units in the next two to five years, when the west site will be developed. They say the city’s recommendation to move the 123 units east of Brea Boulevard conflicts with Unocal’s proposal because the company does not plan to fully develop that area until 15 or 20 years from now. The delay would mean lost revenue, and a subsequent delay in construction of parks and infrastructure, company officials said.

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“Our proposal gives Unocal the most flexibility to deal with the market when we start to build,” said Dennis Chapman, southern region vice president of Unocal’s development arm. “It’s a sensitive project to the environment, and it also has to be economically viable. That’s the balancing game we have to play.”

Still, neighbors say that even if the density was shifted, too much of the project would be confined to their area.

“We’re taking the brunt of this,” said Kenneth L. Patchett, a member of the Fairway Village Homeowners Assn. “It’s just unequal. It’s just out of balance. . . . We’d like to see things develop the way they were planned to 10 years ago. People bought into that plan.”

Patchett was referring to a city master plan for the area developed in 1980 that called for many more single-family homes to be built on larger lots. But Unocal officials say that overall, their project would have a density of 2.3 dwelling units per acre, whereas the 1980 plan allowed for 3 units per acre.

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Most council members say they are undecided about the project. In recent weeks, they have been sifting through hundreds of letters, postcards and public documents on the project to gauge public sentiment. The council will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers.

Unocal Development East Coyote Hills

Unocal is proposing a mix of more than 880 housing units, a championship golf course and a sports complex to be built in the East Coyote Hills area over the next 25 years. The proposal is the largest single project to come before the city in the past two decades.

1) 490 townhomes, apartments or condominiums; Planning Commission favors building no more than 367 units there.

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2) Possible expansion area of adjacent sports complex, which includes two soccer fields and two baseball diamonds.

3) 11 single-family homes, to be incorporated into existing Sorrento Hills development.

4) 60 duplex units.

5) A 170-acre championship golf course.

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6) Open-space gnatcatcher habitat.

7) Panorama Park and gnatcatcher habitat.

8) Re-vegetated gnatcatcher habitat, subject to approval of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

9) 45 custom homes.

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10) 102 duplex units.

11) 174 single-family homes, apartments or condominiums, the final part of the project to be built.

* Residential ** Parks and open spaces *** Golf course **** Future development Sources: Unocal Land and Development Company, city of Fullerton


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