Fountain Valley is not a metropolis, and the residents like it that way.
Case in point: the two tallest buildings in the city, the Hyundai Motor America Headquarters and the Orange Coast Patient Care Pavilion, are only six stories tall each.
Now another not-so-imposing site is on the way. And this arouses consternation among some residents.
In a 3-2 vote Tuesday, April 5, Fountain Valley City Council approved a mixed-use housing development on Slater Avenue near Highway 405. The 3.3-acre project includes a five floors with 270 apartments.
“I’m afraid we’re locked in by tall buildings,” a woman told council ahead of the vote. Referencing the city’s motto, she added, “I want Fountain Valley to remain a great place to live.
About two dozen other speakers also spoke, many urging officials to reject the plan. Most voiced the same criticisms; the complex will exacerbate traffic and parking problems while charging rents that are unaffordable for most young families.
Parents lamented that the housing affordability crisis — which forces many young adults to leave the state to buy homes — is also a family issue. “We are separated from our grandchildren,” said one woman.
The complex will offer 37 studios, 129 one-bedroom apartments, 100 two-bedroom apartments and four three-bedroom apartments, with rents ranging from approximately $1,800 to $3,500 per month. Thirty-three are designated as affordable, but those too could start at over $1,500.
More salt in the wounds for those opposed to the development: a new 5,000 square foot restaurant will replace Silky Sullivan’s, an Irish bar described by locals as “downtown”. Located directly opposite the Town Hall, the pub has been a popular gathering place for four decades.
Construction, which is expected to begin in approximately eight months, will require the demolition of Silky’s and two office buildings.
Among the community members who showed up to show their support for Silky’s was Amanda Brill, the restaurant’s general manager.
“You can grind us to dust, but you cannot grind us. We will go somewhere else… And we will take our people with us,” Brill said. Then she invited everyone present to visit Silky’s that evening “to have a drink on me”.
A patron spoke fondly of his fun times at the pub. “This place has generated tax revenue for Fountain Valley for 38 years,” he said. “Where is the loyalty?”
However, Councilman Glenn Grandis noted that Silky’s owner Bill Madden “voluntarily sold his property” to the developer for $2.4 million two years ago. Madden now has a lease that expires in January.
“Frankly, I think he’s ready to retire,” Grandis said. “It was his choice. You can’t blame the developer for that.
Additionally, the project will include a 2,000 square foot outdoor dining area and a 1,660 square foot art gallery. A six-tier parking structure will make room for 541 vehicles, with 485 parking spaces – 1.8 per apartment – reserved for residents.
The new homes will be a small step towards fulfilling Fountain Valley’s obligation in the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). California has mandated the city area for 4,839 new housing units, including 2,093 earmarked for very low-income, low-income households.
In total, the state wants cities in Orange County to zone 180,000 new homes over the next decade, with 75,000 of those new properties earmarked for low-income residents.
Like other towns in the county where prices are rising rapidly, Fountain Valley’s population is aging. Already, about one in four residents is 60 or older.
Memory Bartlett, president of the Fountain Valley Chamber of Commerce, suggested the new development will appeal to families with children.
“As we attract millennials and young entrepreneurs, it will attract business,” Bartlett said.
Peggy Tabas, a member of the management of Newport Beach-based Slater Investments, which is developing the project, said Fountain Valley was no longer “the ideal place for a first home”.
“It used to be in the 70s, but those days are over,” Tabas said.
“If you want an affordable home, you’ll have to go to the Inland Empire first and work your way up to Fountain Valley.”
Tabas argued that even if the apartments are at current market prices, they will ultimately help drive down rents in the area simply by providing so many places to live. “If you don’t have a supply,” she said, “owners can charge whatever they want.”
Despite these assurances, two members of council expressed concern about the size of the development and some of its details, including the decision to design the parking structure with a single entrance and single exit. Mayor Patrick Harper and Councilor Kim Constantine wanted to defer approval pending further review.
“It’s going to set a precedent for (mixed-use projects) in our city, so let’s get it right,” Constantine said.
The majority, however, said they believe development is the right thing to do to start reducing the state’s housing needs.
“That’s only 5% of our RHNA numbers, people,” Grandis said. “It’s the tip of the iceberg. You have to be ready. Change is coming. It’s beyond our ability to fight (RHNA) at this point.
Before voting, Harper conceded he was in the minority.
“These things are never as good or as bad as you think they are,” Harper said. “Personally, I don’t like this project at this place. But I’m only one of the five votes.