A “disappointed” Catholic Diocese of Orange Wednesday was trying to figure out its next step in trying to build an apartment complex for senior citizens in north Tustin after a supervisors vote on a technical measure put a new glitch in the process.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2, with Supervisors Andrew Do and Michelle Steel dissenting, to recall a spot zoning ordinance that was changed on March 15, 2011, to allow for the Springs at Bethsaida Senior Living facility on 7.25 acres at 11901 Newport Ave.
“We are disappointed in the board’s decision today,” Ryan Lilyengren, the director of communications for the Diocese of Orange told City News Service after the Tuesday vote.
“We thought the Diocese of Orange had a senior housing development plan that was designed and extensively modified to accommodate all concerns of the neighbors in the Tustin Foothill Community Association.
“The Diocese previously made extensive changes to the project to accommodate the concerns of neighbors and received approval from the Board of Supervisors in 2011, only to now have this approval overturned by this board.
“The Diocese is now reviewing all options with regard to this important projects for seniors in North Tustin.”
The vote came as some supporters of the project accused board Chairman Todd Spitzer of being anti-Catholic and having a conflict of interest as he receives some income from James Ron King, who has led the opposition to the project with the Foothill Communities Coalition.
Spitzer said he was given clearance from Orange County attorneys and the Fair Political Practices Commission to vote on the project. He also denied being anti-Catholic.
“I support all religious institutions,” said Spitzer, who added that he is a converted Christian.
Susan Hori, an attorney working for the Diocese, told the board changes have been made to ensure the project melds better with the community. She said it was “designed to be compatible with single-family surrounding homes.”
The central building, which would be two stories tall, has drawn criticism, but Hori said it would be 30 feet high, five feet less than what is allowed in that zoning.
A large entrance was removed from the design based on concerns from neighbors, Hori said.
Bill Milligan, the Diocese’s director of real estate, told the board the diocese “has worked long and hard for a solution for senior living,” and that “it is important that we are able to utilize this land, which has been vacant for 50 years.”
Milligan noted the county’s planning commissioners recommended against changing the zoning for the project.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail Andler sided with the Foothill Communities Coalition in ruling in March 2012 to overturn the board’s approval of the project.
However, the Fourth District Court of Appeal overturned that ruling in January 2014 in a published opinion that established legal precedence.
The appellate justices ruled that spot zoning is OK if it’s in the “public interest,” but found that the spot zoning in this case was “arbitrary or capricious, or lacking in evidentiary support.”
Supervisor Shawn Nelson noted that he was the lone dissenting vote on the prior board that approved the project.
Nelson said there was some “sanctity” to the original zoning plan approved in 1982.
“It says church, school, housing — that’s what it says,” Nelson said. “It’s not like you couldn’t do senior living here and meet the density standards.”
Steel said the property was given to the diocese decades ago and that the parcel’s owner decided senior citizen housing was the best use for it. She said the diocese has done its best to “appease” the community.
Opponents of the project have objected to it because they fear that it would open up the area to more commercial development.
John and Mary Prescott donated the property to church leaders in August 1956. The initial plan was to put St. Cecilia’s Church and a school on the land, and that proposal received the Board of Supervisors’ approval. However, the Tustin Heights Association, a forerunner of Foothill Communities, sued.
The diocese won that battle in the state Supreme Court, but officials decided to put an end to the project and the church was built elsewhere in Tustin.
— City News Service
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