LA HABRA HEIGHTS >> For 37 years, this city has only allowed residential development. In fact, a real estate office is the only commercial area in town.
But that could change after Thursday’s night’s City Council 4-1 vote to approve an 180-day exclusive negotiating agreement with Costa Mesa-based Prism Realty to consider buying city-owned property and building a community shopping center there.
“It’s a parcel of land sitting their vacant,” said Councilman Brian Bergman about the 3-acre site at the southwest corner of Hacienda and West roads the city purchased for $480,000 in 2004 from Los Angeles County with the idea of building a new fire station.
That never happened and now it’s surplus property, Bergman said.
“It really doesn’t have much value,” he said. “We have a fiduciary relationship with the citizens to extract the highest price we can out of this property … so we can repair our roads. We’ve never really funded our paramedics.”
But the council needs to put something there that will be acceptable to the community, Bergman said.
For example, that rules out putting in apartments, he said. In fact the council last year rejected a proposal from another developer for high-density housing, City Manager Shauna Clark said.
Bergman said he also doesn’t believe that single-family homes — no more than three would be allowed under the current zoning — would work because no one would want to live near the heavy traffic on Hacienda.
But there already is opposition to the proposal to consider commercial zoning for the lot.
That should be no surprise, said Jean Lietzau, who was on the City Council from 1978-90.
“We tried to do this about 35 years ago on the corner of East (Road) and Hacienda and the council almost got lynched,” Lietzau said.
Still, Lietzau is OK with the idea.
“If this council wants to do it, I say good for them,” she said.
But others aren’t.
“I am appalled by the fact that we’re even entertaining (the idea),” said Scott Thomas, a 40-year resident of La Habra Heights.
“If you allow one area to be developed for commercial real estate, there is no way for us to say no to any where else in the city,” Thomas said. “I’m concerned about traffic. Any commercial endeavor requires commercial traffic to be successful.”
Resident Norm Zezula said the general plan already forbids commercial zoning.
“The general plan states that La Habra Heights is a unique community because of its rural character. What part of unique doesn’t (the council) understand?”
Mayor Michael Higgins said opponents may be jumping to conclusions because there’s not even a project yet. In fact, Prism has yet to make an offer on the property.
Before the company can do that, it needs to do its due diligence on the site, such as traffic and other studies, Higgins said.
The council also would have to amend the zoning ordinance — right now the code has no mention of commercial zoning.
Higgins said Prism might bring in a couple of restaurants, a coffee shop or something like that on the lot. It also could be a gathering place for the community, he added.
Councilman Roy Francis, who cast the lone no vote, said the only way he would support it would be to put the issue to a vote of the residents.
Source: Whittier Daily News