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Disneyland not smiling about housing plan

Times Staff Writer

A proposal to build housing near Disneyland has escalated into a battle of wills between the entertainment giant and key Anaheim officials, who once could be counted on to follow Disney’s every lead.

Although some Anaheim City Council members see the project as a way to add needed housing to Orange County’s second-largest city, Disney says it would disrupt the tourist environment and street scene it has worked hard to create outside the gates to Disneyland and California Adventure.

Tonight, the council is expected to choose sides and vote whether to permit 225 apartments and 1,275 condominiums in the resort district. The area, directly across the street from where Disney may build a third amusement park, includes a site recently rezoned for upscale hotel-condominium projects, to which Disney has not objected.

The debate has left council members in an awkward position: whether to please Anaheim’s biggest employer and biggest tourist draw or create housing, including low-cost residences for the resort district’s workforce.

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“People are really rallying hard,” Councilman Harry Sidhu said of the behind-the-scenes lobbying. “I’ve never seen anything like this. The troops behind the resort district, they are woken up.”

In a last-ditch attempt to derail the proposal, Disney officials sent an “urgent” e-mail to community leaders asking them to “help save the Anaheim resort area” by calling council members or attending tonight’s meeting.

Anaheim’s resort district has been greatly reshaped over the years. Hotels, upscale restaurants and tourist-friendly entertainment centers such as Downtown Disney have replaced the tacky retail outlets and cheap motels that once dominated the area.

Last month, the Anaheim Planning Commission unanimously rejected the housing plan, but some council members have expressed support for it. The debate pits lower-cost-housing advocates against Disney, which has publicly worried about the environment outside its gates since the days of Walt Disney.

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Sidhu was one of four council members who voted to pave the way for the project in August; Mayor Curt Pringle was the lone opponent. But Sidhu is now searching for a compromise, proposing a boutique hotel and restaurants at the front of the 26-acre parcel off Katella Avenue with condominiums and low-cost apartments in the back.

“I’m looking for a solution,” he said. “There’s got to be some kind of happy medium. This would help create kind of a resort atmosphere and still allow residential and affordable housing.”

Sidhu said he would ask for a delay so his colleagues and city staff would have more time to study his proposal.

Disney has maintained that the dispute is not some referendum on lower-cost housing but about maintaining a 13-year-old plan that has revitalized the 2.2-square-mile resort district, more than doubled annual bed tax revenue and accounted for nearly half the city’s general fund.

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“Residents and tourists have different needs that are not always compatible,” Disney spokesman Rob Doughty said in a recent e-mail on the subject. “Tourists like to stay up late and make noise, while residents need a quiet night sleep so they can get up to go to school and work in the morning.”

Lower-cost-housing advocates have argued that the plan for the resort district is antiquated and that building more hotels would exacerbate the city’s shortage of cheaper housing. The project, developed by SunCal Cos., would replace about 300 mobile homes. Hundreds of apartments are also nearby.

“This whole issue about what’s compatible doesn’t make sense,” said Eric Altman, who represents a coalition of labor unions and community groups. “There’re people living on that site now, and I don’t think there’s any glaring incompatibility with people living there and other functions that go on.”

david.mckibben@latimes.com

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