Judge stops senior center in park

An Orange County Superior Court judge ordered a halt Tuesday to the construction of a new senior center to be built in Huntington Central Park after it ruled the city violated its general plan, city charter and the California Environmental Quality Act.

A group of residents called the Parks Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the city challenging a 45,000-square-foot senior center, which would use a 5-acre section of the park between the Shipley Nature Center and the disc golf course. The project’s construction was approved in a vote by residents in November 2006 and received approval for its conditional use permit and Environmental Impact Report from the city.

“Personally, I am very disappointed. Our ever-growing senior population has been underserved for far too long already,” Mayor Keith Bohr said in a statement. “Our current senior center is antiquated ... I hope the City Council will look to take the appropriate steps to ensure we achieve a 21st-century senior center sooner rather than later.”

City Attorney Jennifer McGrath said in a statement that the city was surprised by the ruling. The judge ordered the city to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Report looking into alternative locations, McGrath said.

The judge declared the city didn’t offer adequate alternative locations. The city also failed to properly address the environmental impact of using funds from the Pacific City project, a project that will bring hotel, residential, retail and restaurant facilities together between Huntington and First streets on Pacific Coast Highway, to build the senior center, according to a copy of the judge’s minute order provided by the city.

Under the city’s original plan, all fees from Pacific City would go toward preserving open space, establishing recreational facilities or funding other facilities for Pacific City residents to use. The City Council, though, planned to use the entire $20 million to $25 million from the project for construction, which the judge felt did not fully comply with the requirements.

The city also can’t build the center in the park unless it amends its general plan, according to the order.

The one-story building would have replaced Michael E. Rodgers Seniors Center on Orange Avenue.

City officials will meet Monday in a closed session to discuss the issue.


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