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Suit seeks to halt center

A neighbor of the proposed community/senior center on Third Street is embarking on a last-ditch attempt to halt the project by challenging the traffic and parking studies for the project in court.

Loma Terrace resident Mark O’Connor filed a lawsuit on Jan. 12 in Orange County Superior Court and hand-delivered notification of his intent to sue to the city on the same day. The city was served on Wednesday.

“The suit charges violations of CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act],” said O’Connor, an attorney.

“I believe I am the most affected property owner by the project. However, the lawsuit is not based on what the project did to my house. It is based on factual information.

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“The traffic impacts were not sufficiently analyzed and that is equally true of the parking.”

Traffic studies were required by the environmental impact report, certified by the City Council in April of 2004. The council certified in December 2006 an addendum to the report, describing changes in the project, which decreased its size and impacts, city Principal Planner Carolyn Martin said.

The addendum included a statement of overriding considerations, meaning a determination was made that positive aspects of the project outweigh significant adverse impacts.

Impacts of the Third Street project include traffic, air quality and short-term noise from construction.

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The project is on a fast track, readying the site for construction, City Manager Ken Frank said.

“We are removing trees from the site, and we have hired companies to remove or demolish the cottages [now on the site] and to deal with hazardous materials,” Frank said.

The council on Tuesday approved a $1.8 million appropriation to cover the increases in the cost of the project and a contingency fund.

“You may be a bit precipitous to move too quickly on that project because a lawsuit has been filed,” O’Connor advised the council.

Frank said, in fact, the project is being expedited.

“We are putting all of our energy into getting the houses off the site so we can start the project in April,” Frank told the council.

O’Connor also opposes a proposal to allow a 36-foot height limit in the Civic Arts District overlay of the Downtown Specific Plan area, which includes the site of the centers. He was concerned that the 36-foot limit could be applied to buildings that would impact his home.

The height of the community/senior center was established under the previous limits and after negotiations with neighbors, Councilwoman Elizabeth Schneider said.

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O’Connor also said neither he nor neighbors he spoken to had been noticed of the agenda item.

No individual notices were sent, but the item was published, which completed the city’s obligation, Community Development Director John Montgomery said.

“We are proceeding on schedule with the project, and we won’t stop unless a court issues an injunction,” Frank said Wednesday after O’Connor’s suit was delivered to the city manager’s office.


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