Disputed Anaheim parcel sold

Times Staff Writer

The site of a proposed low-cost housing project near Disneyland that ignited a firestorm of protest has been sold to a Texas hotel developer.

Renaissance Development, a Fort Worth company with more than $1 billion in past projects, said Thursday that it planned to build three upscale hotels and restaurants, shops and pubs on the 26-acre parcel. The sale could signal an end to a battle that has divided Anaheim over the last 18 months.

Irvine-based SunCal Cos. had envisioned a 1,500-unit condominium and low-cost apartment complex for the land at Katella Avenue and Haster Street. But the project sparked a rancorous debate over the future of Anaheim’s Resort District, capturing national attention and triggering protests, lawsuits and ballot propositions.

Business leaders, including Disney, felt the area should be reserved for tourists -- and the money they bring with them. Housing advocates argued that Anaheim had a pressing need for affordable housing.

The property became available three months ago when SunCal’s $46-million deal to buy the land from the Frank Family Partnership collapsed. A month after the deal fell through, SunCal sued the Frank Family for $60 million in damages, alleging that the landowner and a third party had conspired to scuttle the deal.


Ed Casebier, Renaissance’s president, said his company had tried to buy the site and three others in Anaheim over the last year. Casebier said he settled on a deal to buy the property “a few months ago” but wanted it to remain confidential until initial plans were completed.

“When we heard the property was available, we jumped on it,” Casebier said. “We like the location because of its visibility off the I-5 freeway, and it’s halfway between the convention center and [Angel] Stadium.”

The company, which has built hotels, convention centers and office buildings throughout the country, has tentatively named its new project Gateway because it leads into the 2.2-square-mile Resort District. The property is across the street from land where Disney intends someday to build a third amusement park and a block from GardenWalk, an upscale outdoor mall set to open in months.

“With what’s already there and what Disney is spending to reinvigorate California Adventure and its long-term plans across the street, we’re very well positioned to join in the success of Disneyland,” Casebier said.

He said he had no discussions with Disney officials before he decided to buy the property. “We knew the problems going on, and I didn’t want to get drawn into them,” Casebier said.

Disney, which led the fight to keep housing out of the Resort District, declined to comment on the news. But officials with Save Our Anaheim Resort, a Disney-funded coalition of business and community leaders, said they were “excited.”

“I understand it’s a hotel-retail project, and that’s very welcome news,” said Annette McCluskey, a coalition spokeswoman. “It’s one more example of the continued high interest developers have in building tourism-related projects in the Resort District. And it fits the original vision of the Resort District.”

Skip Miller, an attorney with SunCal, called the news “very interesting.”

“This certainly is a matter highly relevant to our litigation with the landowner,” he said.

City Council members could not be reached for comment, but Planning Director Sheri Vander Dussen said she was “encouraged they want to build something consistent with the resort.”

Casebier said he didn’t anticipate any of the political problems that SunCal encountered while trying to get its project approved.

“There’s no residential on the plans, and we aren’t expecting any battles,” he said.

He said he wasn’t scared off by the controversy over the property, now home to two mobile home parks.

“We were hesitant, but not because of the conflict surrounding it,” he said. “We’ve never been involved in a closure process for a trailer park.”