Residents continue fight to save open space

For Stephanie Brandt, the open space located at the old Lamb School site was a place where she and others in the neighborhood could get to know one another.

But despite an ongoing battle with Tri Pointe Homes, an Irvine-based company that plans to build 81 two-story homes in that location, the land is slowing being taken away from residents who discovered all 25 trees on the site were cut down Tuesday.

"They just assume that this project is going to go through," Brandt said.

The residents aren't going down without a fight.

Brandt is a member of the grass-roots group Save Our Fields, which sued the city of Huntington Beach in December 2012 for allegedly having a bias when it passed the development project in November 2012 and for filing a mitigated negative declaration instead of an environmental impact report.

Just hours after the trees were removed, a settlement hearing between City Attorney Jennifer McGrath and Save Our Fields was held. Holly Derheim, a member of Save Our Fields, attended the meeting and said the two sides didn't come to an agreement.

McGrath could not be reached by press time. Project planner Jane James said she could not comment on the issue since it is under litigation.

Mayor Connie Boardman, who voted against the development project in November, said she's sorry to hear about the trees being cut down and is disappointed with Tri Pointe's decision to cut down the trees the same day the two sides were meeting.

Boardman has yet to see the details of the lawsuit, but said she believes the project is too dense for the site.

The Fountain Valley School District owned the Lamb School site up until 2011, when they sold the property for $35 million to Tri Pointe Homes, according to a previous Independent story.

Members of Save Our Fields are not only concerned about the density issues the project could potentially cause, but also because the property is one of the rare open spaces in East Huntington Beach.

"Our tax dollars paid for this land," Derheim said. "We feel it should be put to a public use."

Derheim, a 58-year-old resident who has lived near the Lamb School site for 15 years, said the field is a "humble little space" where she raised her children.

Brandt added that families would hold birthday parties on the property and the AYSO — which operates three fields there — would have to move and conduct their business elsewhere.

"It would be a huge loss to the city," Brandt said. "Where else would they go?"

Save Our Fields wasn't the only group to disagree with the city's decision to green light the project. The Huntington Beach Environmental Board wrote a letter to the Planning and Building Department in September 2012 addressing the same concerns as the residents and also wrote that the improvements Tri Pointe would make to the property would not be sufficient.

Derheim said the only way to stop the development from going up is to win the lawsuit.

"This whole process has stunk to high heavens," she said. "We've been fighting this tooth and nail."

Twitter: @acocarpio

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