Newport investigating potential project's impacts

Newport Beach city planners are taking a fresh look at a high-rise residential and retail development proposed for a dormant industrial site along Jamboree Road, near the border with Irvine.

The project, at the former semiconductor plant owned by Conexant Systems Inc., may include up to 1,244 apartments, a large park and small retail shops. The city has begun a review of its impact to surrounding areas.

This would be one of the first developments of its kind since Newport Beach voters approved the revised General Plan in 2006. The plan included a large district with residential and commercial uses to the east of John Wayne Airport.

"That mix of land-uses was designed so that they're more viable for the city," said Councilwoman Leslie Daigle, who represents the area. "We're trying to create livability there."

Developers during the last housing boom built many apartments and condominiums along that same stretch of Jamboree, but on the Irvine side of Campus Drive. Some remain vacant, including many in Lennar's Central Park West development near the intersection with the San Diego (405) Freeway.

RealFacts, an apartment research firm, reports that 94% of the apartments were occupied in the two surrounding ZIP codes during the first quarter of 2010. That is generally considered a healthy market.

"We've worked very hard with a consultant to make sure the project's appropriate for that area," said Conexant spokeswoman Gwen Carlson.

When Conexant originally introduced the project in 2006, the housing market was hot. Times have changed, and so has the chipmaker's financial situation. It has $175 million in debt coming due in 2015, and has been raising funds to help meet those obligations.

One strategy is to sell this land to a developer. Recently negotiations fell through with a Santa Ana-based company that was considering the property for $26 million.

The former manufacturing site, located between MacArthur Boulevard and Birch Street, currently has two massive manufacturing buildings that would be demolished.

Traffic would increase nearby with more residents, an initial report by the city says, but its overall impact has to be more carefully studied.

Daigle said that the General Plan changes were "traffic neutral" overall.

"It was voter-approved," she said.

The development proposal next enters into the environmental impact review phase, with public comment possible through July 1.

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