Irvine may allow another 1,056 homes around Great Park

by in News

Since 2013, Irvine residents have expected to see as many as 9,500 homes built around the Great Park, under an agreement between the city and developer FivePoint Holdings.

Now the upper limit could grow to 10,556 homes, after FivePoint affiliate Heritage Fields asked recently to change how some of the homes are counted – subtracting the affordable units that are being built and providing leeway to build more homes overall. The Planning Commission approved the request March 7.

FivePoint CEO Emile Haddad said Monday the proposal would simply use the city’s existing rules meant to encourage development of affordable housing, and adding more homes of any kind could help ease traffic by allowing some of the thousands of people who commute to jobs in Irvine to live there as well.

The 9,500-home cap was set in 2013, when the City Council approved a second phase of development around the Great Park. Heritage Fields was given the right to build about 4,600 more homes – in addition to the nearly 4,900 it could already build – and in return, the company promised to create community sports fields, a wildlife corridor and other public amenities at the Great Park. Several of those amenities are now open.

The cap included 1,056 affordable homes, more than half of which already exist. Most of the remainder have city approval to build when ready.

FivePoint is using a city rule to designate all the affordable homes as “additive,” which means they wouldn’t count toward the total number that can be built, so the developer could build that many more market-rate homes.

It’s the first time the city has gotten a request to change the designation of already-built homes, and it’s the first request to use the city’s “additive” provision on a project that already took advantage of a state law granting the right to build more homes if the project includes a certain percentage for low-income residents, according to a city report.

Jeanne Baran, who helps run the Irvine Watchdog blog, said FivePoint is exploiting what she called a loophole to “go back and cram in some more density.” Heritage Fields is “double-dipping,” she said, because it already used the affordable units to get a “density bonus” under the state law.

She’d find it more palatable, she said, if the extra homes were also priced for low-income families.

Haddad bristled at the narrative he said some critics are pushing: That housing isn’t needed and will always worsen traffic. He also pointed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s housing plan, which includes a threat to withhold gas tax money from cities that don’t plan for affordable housing.

“You either can have local government start realizing what they need to do, or they’re going to start finding themselves on the opposite side of the state of California,” Haddad said.

He said many of the additional homes Heritage Fields would build would be “way below the median price” in Irvine of $1.1 million, and he offered to take anyone interested on a tour of the facilities made possible by building homes.

“I would like them to go and see the sports complex, the ice facility, the schools, everything we’ve done over there,” he said

The City Council does not have to automatically review the Planning Commission’s decision, but an appeal can be made within 15 days of the commission’s vote.