Irvine City Council approves scaled-down Great Park

The view of the former El Toro Marine Corp. Air Station from the Irvine Great Park balloon ride. Most of the park remains undeveloped.
The view of the former El Toro Marine Corp. Air Station from the Irvine Great Park balloon ride. Most of the park remains undeveloped.

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It took until 1:30 a.m. Wednesday for the Irvine City Council to approve a controversial development plan for the long-delayed Great Park.

The council's 3-2 vote to approve the development deal came after 10 hours of questions and public comment.

The swing vote in the deal was Mayor Pro-Tem Jeff Lalloway. 

"I'm tired, I'm happy, I'm excited, Honestly, this is a great deal for the city," Lalloway said. 

The deal allows developer FivePoint Communities to build an additional 4,606 homes around the park in exchange for spending $172 million to build recreation and leisure amenities in about half of the 1300 acre park. The developer already had a green light from the city to build about 4,900 homes.

The amenities include an 18-hole golf course, sports fields, a wildlife corridor and a network of trails.  

Lalloway says FivePoint will also pay an additional $20 million to improve a major road into the park and fund the park's operational costs for several years.

"It's not the completion of the Great Park, but it kickstarts a significant portion that will be completed," he said.   

Some Irvine residents suggested the city could get a better deal. 
Lalloway said FivePoint made concessions and agreed to changes since the council first considered the plan two weeks ago. 

FivePoint Communities developer Emile Haddad said about $40 million of the park improvement costs would come through a special property tax.

"What emerged out of last night is a perfect example of how a private-public partnership works to overcome challenges and be able to deliver on a promise that was made a long time ago," said Haddad.

Haddad previously announced an agreement with Irvine-baded Broadcom to locate a new permanent campus on industrial-zoned property within the Great Park.  

"We're hitting the ground running on Monday for the engineering and planning for the sports park and expect to break ground on the sports park next year," said Haddad. "I think what you're going to see right now is you're going to see things move very quickly." 

Haddad said the overall plan is to create a self-sufficient community where residents can walk or bike to shop, work and recreate.

"The Great Park will have homes around it, businesses, retail, entertainment, offices  - this will be a unique place to work and live," said Haddad. 
When it was first proposed in 2002, the Great Park was intended to rival New York's Grand Central Park or Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The original plan called for turning 1,300 acres of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station into canyons, orchards, athletic fields and an extensive network of pathways and trails.

Lalloway says the development deal will get Irvine part-way to that vision. 

After a new California law eliminated redevelopment agencies, Irvine was left without $1.5 billion it planned to use to build the Great Park. Lalloway says there was no "Plan B" but the deal with FivePoint is a good start.