ORANGE, Calif. — Orange voters have spoken: They do not want the Trails at Santiago Creek housing development on the old Sully-Miller site.
With 85% of the votes tallied as of Wednesday, more than 39,000 or 63% of voters in Orange have voted against Measure AA, which would have approved developer Milan Capital Management's plan to build 128 homes and open space on a 109-acre site on a former sand and gravel site in East Orange.
"The site has now been deemed unsafe to build on. Because the voters have spoken, we expect that the city support the county in its mandates against this polluting landowner," said Sherry Hart-Panttaja, the president of Orange Park Acres Association, a nonprofit that advocated against the development. "The public's health should always take precedence over any financial incentives offered to a city. This site must be restored to its original state."
"This landslide vote shows Orange voters can't be blackmailed," Laura Thomas, a spokesperson for the Orange Citizens group.
Spectrum News 1 calls and email messages to Milan Capital were not returned as of press time.
Incumbent Orange Mayor Mark Murphy, who was part of the city council that approved the development last year and leading in his re-election campaign, referred Spectrum News 1 to Milan Capital about the site's future.
"Since the property you ask about is privately owned, I would encourage you to contact the owners about any future plans," Murphy said in an email.
Murphy told the Orange County Register that he is unsure what will become of the site on Santiago Canyon Road's north side between Jamestown Way and Orange Park Boulevard in the city.
"I'm not sure what the alternatives are now [and if they] are going to be any better than they were before the project was considered, but we'll have to wait and see," Murphy said.
For now, the vote ends years of bickering between the developer, the city, and residents of Orange about the future of the Sully-Miller site, one of the last large undeveloped parcels in the city.
Milan Capital has owned the site since 2008, according to property records. The company has been trying to rezone the land to residential. Currently, only a small portion of the 109-acres is zoned as low-density residential. The site is mostly zoned as a resource and sand and gravel extraction site, and open space. The site is currently being used as a concrete dumping ground, residents said.
In 2014, residents and the city council opposed Milan's proposed 395-unit residential and senior living facility project. A few years later, Milan went back to the city with a new proposal to build 129 homes, create open space and trails and park areas on the site. The company would have also put in millions of dollars worth of improvements to the site.
The city's planning commission and city council approved the Trails at Santiago Creek project last year despite heavy opposition.
Residents, though, banded together and gathered enough signatures for a referendum to stop the development. The Orange Park Acres Association also filed a lawsuit contesting the development's environmental impact report, according to residents.
"The [city's] general plan does not designate this area for housing," Hart-Panttaja said. "It's at a heavily congested intersection, in a flood inundation zone, in a high-risk fire area immediately adjacent to a former landfill with active methane vents."
Hart-Panttaja also wanted to be clear that this is not a case of NIMBY or neighbors not wanting a large housing development to be built in this part of the city.
"This has nothing to do with NIMBYism," she said. "This has to do with proper planning and following our general planning and underlying planning documents that have been in place for nearly 50 years. Building on this very dangerous site would put existing and future homeowners at risk."