Saturday, March 20, 2010

6,000 new units planned for Irvine urban core

IRVINE – The latest proposal for the Irvine Business Complex would bring 6,000 new housing units, $72 million in infrastructure improvements and new park space to the community's urban core.

City officials have released the latest version of the at-times controversial Irvine Business Complex "Vision Plan," which they hope will provide a roadmap for turning a more than 2,000-square-foot swath of industrial and business space near John Wayne Airport into a cutting-edge mixed used environment.

If approved, the latest iteration of the vision plan would increase the number of housing units allowed in the Irvine Business Complex from a little more than 9,000 to 15,000 units, with a state bonus for providing affordable housing potentially adding another 2,000 units. The increase in housing would be offset by decreases in the amount of planned office space, according to staff reports.

To lessen the impact of new developments, the vision plan calls for a new community park somewhere south of the 405 Freeway, along with at lease six smaller neighborhood parks, new trails and bikeways. For additional green space, officials are hoping to introduce a new "urban park" category to the city code, covering amenities such as courtyards and roof gardens.

The vision plan also calls for $72 million in infrastructure improvements, including pedestrian bridges over several busy roadways, a creek walk along San Diego Creek, shuttle service and a potential library and parking structure.

Environmental studies of the Irvine Business Complex plan determined that it would have a "significant and unavoidable" impact on nearby roads, necessitating improvements at more than 20 Irvine, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Santa Ana intersections.

The Irvine Community Services Commission on Wednesday became the first city commission to look over the updated vision plan. The four commissioners present at the meeting were deadlocked on whether to support the plan, leading to a 2 to 2 vote.

Community Services Commissioner Carol Liittschwager, who voted against the plan, said she wanted staffers to look into creating more open space on the north side of the 405 Freeway.

"You need a little visual relief," Liittschwager said.

The Irvine Planning Commission will next to weigh-in on the vision plan before it ultimately reaches the City Council.

Irvine's nearly two decade-long effort to transform the Irvine Business Complex into neighborhoods where residents can both live and work drew legal challenges from neighboring cities and local businesses, who worried that the influx of new residents would overwhelm the area.

Irvine in recent months has largely settled the legal challenges, paying Newport Beach $3.6 million to fund road improvements, and agreeing to look into creating a buffer around Allergan Inc.'s Irvine Business Complex facilities. Settlement talks between the cities of Irvine and Tustin are reportedly still underway.

Even as city leaders lay the groundwork for Irvine Business Complex growth, developers are taking a wait and see attitude toward new projects. Irvine officials say they haven't received any new development applications for the area during the past year,

There are signs of life for Irvine Business Projects, however, with Lennar Corp. recently announcing plans to resume sales for its long-mothballed Central Park West development near the intersection of Jamboree Road and the 405 Freeway.


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