Despite the environmental community's pleas Tuesday night to "save it: don't pave it," a portion of a former archeological site near the Bolsa Chica Wetlands was approved to become the city's first "green" housing development.
More than 30 residents spoke during public comment, expressing concerns about development so close to the wetlands and an environmentally sensitive habitat area.
The area is of great ecological and historical importance, said Paul Arms, the president of the Bolsa Chica Land Trust. The wetlands are an asset to the community to match the pier, downtown and Huntington Central Park, he said.
"We are fighting hard to protect this important asset," he said.
The City Council approved the proposal, 5 to 1, with Mayor Pro Tem Jill Hardy voting no and Councilman Devin Dwyer absent during a public hearing that lasted more than three hours.
"I'm sure every community has its cross to bear, and Bolsa Chica has been Huntington's for a long time," said Councilman Don Hansen. "I find all the findings that were presented tonight adequate."
Residents packed the meeting room and spilled out into the adjoining rooms, with many wearing yellow pieces of paper featuring the don't-pave-it phrase pinned to their shirts.
The proposal allows Hearthside Homes to build a 22 single-family-home tract called the Ridge on a 5-acre section southeast of Bolsa Chica Street and Los Patos Avenue.
The houses will be four- to six-bedroom, two-story homes between 2,700 and 4,200 square feet. The development would include a 5,776-square-foot park.
The homes will have solar panels, "smart" irrigation controllers and drought-tolerant landscaping and be built using sustainable building materials.
The tract will also have porous pavers for the streets and driveways, which will allow rainwater to absorb into the ground, get stored in a storm drain water system and then filter back into the ground.
"We're not aware of any project in Orange County … that is required to achieve that level of certification," said applicant Ed Mountford. "It's unheard of."
The developer would also improve a city-owned piece of land north of the site to allow access from Bolsa Chica Street to the Bolsa Chica Wetlands by creating a trail and improving landscaping and signage.
Hardy raised concerns about the 2001 archeological study commissioned by Hearthside Homes. She questioned staff about why the same study was used when its conclusion that archeological remains were unlikely to be found was proved incorrect on the neighboring Brightwater development, which is also owned by Hearthside Homes.
"The same people did the study and they were proved wrong," she said. "Why wouldn't we expect that they should update their study for this site when they were wrong for the site next door?"
City Planner Jennifer Villasenor said it is "unlikely" that any artifacts are found intact on the site, according to the study, and if there are, mitigation measures are in place.
Residents echoed Hardy's concerns about the study and requested a new one be completed along with an environmental impact report.