New hope for senior center

Huntington Beach's long-anticipated new senior center may finally come to fruition now that a new developer has taken over the Pacific City project.

Crescent Heights, a Florida-based company that replaced Pacific City's previous developer this summer, is on board to pay about $22 million for the construction of a senior facility in Huntington Central Park, city and company officials said.

The City Council approved Pacific City, which would feature a hotel, condominiums and businesses on a 30-acre parcel, in 2004. Afterward, the city worked out an agreement with original developer Makar Properties, which promised to pay $22 million toward a new, larger facility to replace the Michael E. Rodgers Seniors' Center at 1718 Orange Ave.

Even though the project has since passed from Makar to Farallon Capital Management, and again to Crescent Heights, the arrangement still stands, according to Steve Afriat, a spokesman for the new developer.

"They bought the project with all its benefits and all its liabilities," he said. "That's how you buy a project."

Crescent Heights is still evaluating the economics of the project, and the original $22-million amount may change, Afriat noted.

Some in the senior community expressed excitement about Crescent Heights taking over Pacific City. Bob Dettloff, a member and former president of the Huntington Beach Council on Aging, said the current center is too small for dances, dinners and many other events.

The passing of the project to Crescent Heights, he said, gave him hope.

"I keep saying, I hope it's going to happen while I'm still able to enjoy the senior center," he said.

The city's quest to build a new senior center has been marred by litigation the last few years. The Parks Legal Defense Fund, a citizens group dedicated to protecting open space, filed a complaint in 2008 seeking to block construction of the center in the park.

Among the group's complaints was that using the entire $22 million toward the center violated the Quimby Act, a state law that authorizes cities to require developers to pay fees for projects that don't create new open space.

An Orange County Superior Court judge ruled in 2009 in favor of the defense fund, but an appellate judge the following year overturned the ruling that the city could not use Pacific City funds to build the center. The appellate decision stemmed from a technicality — the citizens group had missed the deadline to file its complaint regarding the Quimby Act issue.

After the appellate court's ruling, the city attorney declared that Huntington had to go-ahead to proceed with plans for the new senior center.

The city is processing a new environmental impact report on the center, which is expected to go before the Planning Commission in January, spokeswoman Laurie Frymire said.

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

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