The Huntington Beach City Council on Monday approved the plans of an Orange County firm to demolish and rezone two former school sites in order to construct homes at each site.
Tri Pointe Homes will build 130 houses at 20 combined acres of space at the former Lamb and Wardlow elementary school sites, which the company bought from the Fountain Valley School District for $35 million last year.
Both the proposals and zoning amendments — from public to residential — were passed, but by different margins. The Wardlow project (located at 9191 Pioneer Drive) was approved unanimously, while the Lamb proposal passed by a vote of 4-2-1 with Councilwoman Connie Boardman and Councilman Joe Shaw dissenting. Councilman Keith Bohr was not present for the vote.
The Lamb site plan passed after a lengthy public hearing that drew more than 35 speakers, with many speaking out against the proposal as part of the grass-roots campaign, Save Our Field.
Members of the movement asked the council not to pass, or at least to postpone, the vote after Mayor Pro Tem Devin Dwyer appealed the Lamb project after it was passed by the Planning Commission.
Save Our Field members raised a number of objections to the project. Some said the new multi-level and small-lot homes would clash with a neighborhood filled with single-story and large-lot residences and congest traffic, despite a city traffic report that there would be no significant impact.
The major point of contention was how neighboring residents would lose what little green space the area offered by the three fields at the abandoned Lamb property, located at 10251 Yorktown Ave., which closed in 1979 and served as the Huntington Beach Union High School District's headquarters from 1980 to 2006.
"It'd be a shame to lose these fields," said neighbor Walt Woodworth. "You take this away and what do we have? There's no park space on the east side."
As part of the project, Tri Pointe agreed to modernize a 2.6-acre park the city purchased in 2005 with a half-basketball court, tot lot and 150-by-240-foot practice field that can be used for AYSO soccer matches.
The public had no claim to the two other fields, Mayor Don Hansen said, since they were never designated as public parks.
"You've had the luxury of coveting space and property that just isn't yours for a long period of time," Hansen told Save Our Field members in attendance.
Tri Pointe officials and several members of the council maintained the development would benefit the community by filling an abandoned space that can attract criminal activity, creating jobs and increasing home values for existing residents.
"I know everybody can't agree," Councilman Joe Carchio told the crowd. "It's really hard. Nobody likes change, and maybe the lot sizes aren't exactly what you want them to be, but I know this is going to increase the value of your properties."
Gina Starapoli and other Save Our Field members simply didn't find it to be a fair deal for the community.
"The benefits to the community are outweighed by the number of homes they want to put there," Starapoli said. "I refer to it as a glorified apartment complex."
For Boardman, there was no easy answer.
"I can see both sides here," she said. "I can see the product that's being proposed is, I believe, a high-quality product. On the other hand, I think these smaller lots are not compatible with the neighborhood."