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Cheap Living Units Appear Blocked

Times Staff Writer

For the second time in recent months, Anaheim city leaders are discouraging plans for inexpensive housing in the city’s bustling resort and sports districts, angering low-cost-housing advocates who say the city needs housing for the people who work there.

The latest project called for 200 low-cost units on Katella Avenue, a thoroughfare that passes by Disneyland and cuts through the resort district. City planners said they preferred something high-end, such as a combination hotel-condominium project.

The debate is similar to disagreements elsewhere on where low-cost housing is better placed: where workers are employed, or away from destination attractions such as amusement parks and sports venues.

SunCal Cos., which proposed building the low-cost units, said they believed they were on the right track with their project, which included 1,300 market-rate units in addition to the low-cost ones. The firm has spent more than a year working on designs.

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Last week, the Anaheim Planning Commission approved a zoning amendment for the area that gives developers the option of building upscale projects in the mold of the Omni Hotel -- a hotel-condo complex in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. That option reduces the chances of lower-cost housing there.

Less than three months ago, the City Council approved the conversion of a large apartment complex in the Platinum Triangle to condominiums, reducing the rental stock in the area.

The Platinum Triangle, a former industrial area that includes the Arrowhead Pond and Angel Stadium, is planned as an urban village of lofts, restaurants, shops and pedestrian-friendly streets. No lower-cost housing is planned.

Council members Richard Chavez and Lorri Galloway voted against the conversion, saying the loss of hundreds of rentals would hurt service-sector workers and young professionals who couldn’t afford to buy. Chavez said he was “stunned” to learn that the city was encouraging upscale development in the same area where SunCal was proposing the low-cost units.

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The need for low-cost housing in Anaheim has been established, Chavez said, “yet there seems to be this lack of desire to create affordable units.”

Galloway said SunCal’s proposal was appealing because it would replace about 300 mobile homes that had been on the property, about half a mile from Disneyland. The city has been paying the mobile home tenants to move.

“I want to ensure that as we were moving that workforce housing out, we were replacing it,” Galloway said.

Anaheim Planning Director Sheri Vander Dussen said the low-cost-housing project was “not consistent” with the city’s goals for the neighborhood. “Katella’s a major thoroughfare; it takes people from the 5 Freeway to the [Disneyland] resort and the Convention Center,” she said. “So we wanted people to see resort development along that entrance corridor.”

City officials say they have been approached by developers interested in projects that would incorporate luxury hotels and condominiums. The concept has become popular in cities such as Dallas, Toronto, Boston and San Diego.

Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle said the hotel-condo concept made economic sense for the city, which invested heavily in improving the resort district, Anaheim’s main financial engine. By adding hotels, the city can pay down its redevelopment debt with more bed-tax revenue.

Frank Elfend, a consultant for SunCal, said city officials encouraged him to develop a project on the 26-acre property that would include low-cost housing.

“The city approved an affordable-housing policy last year,” he said. “Our proposal was in response to that policy.” The plan set a goal of creating 1,200 low-income rental units over four years.

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Pringle said Anaheim was building more low-cost units than any city in Orange County, just not in the resort district or the Platinum Triangle.

Elfend said a 2005 site analysis for the city further supported its project, concluding that the parcel was appropriate for residential because of its proximity to other apartments and was inappropriate for resort uses because it was about half a mile from Disneyland. But the report was a draft, and more recent studies concluded otherwise.

Elfend said he began speaking with city officials about SunCal’s project in April 2005 and submitted a preliminary proposal to the city in October. A more detailed plan was nearly finished when he learned through another developer that the matter was on the Planning Commission’s agenda.

Vander Dussen said the city did not contact SunCal about the zoning amendment because the company never filed a formal project application.

“I could tell you I wanted to paint my house green,” she said, “but unless I do it, it doesn’t get done. Until he submits a proposal, we don’t understand exactly what he’s proposing.”

SunCal said it was keeping its proposal alive. “We will come up with an alternative proposal that would allow our project to be included in the city’s new plans for the area,” Elfend said.

But unless Galloway and Chavez are joined by a third council member to make a voting majority, the project will probably be scrapped.


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