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Whiting: Orange faces new and old growing pains from Chapman expansion, home-building boom

Whiting: Orange faces new and old growing pains from Chapman expansion, home-building boom

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Orange is well known as the home of Chapman University. But for many locals, the institution is less about pride than it is reason for concern. Above, male students from Chapman University’s the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity walk across Chapman Avenue in women’s high heels for the Walk Against Violence at the 2nd Annual “Keep Calm and Beat H.E.A.T. (Human Exploitation and Trafficking) Rocking & Rally” in 2014. FILE: LEONARD ORTIZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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City Manager Rick Otto expects construction to begin within the next year on more than a thousand new homes in Orange. , PAUL RODRIGUEZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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The Orange Plaza, better known as “The Circle” in Orange, is the historic district of the city which has retained its identity and appearance since the late 19th century. The City of Orange celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2013. , FILE: KEVIN LARA, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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This Orange Eichler home purchased by Jeanine Singer and Chris Kopczynski was featured in the 43rd annual Jack & Jill Guild Holiday Home Tour in Orange and North Tustin last year. , FILE: STEVEN GEORGES, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

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Students throw streamers in the air at kickoff of Chapman’s Homecoming game against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps earlier this year. The Panthers lost, 33-30. , FILE: FOSTER SNELL, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

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The bowling alley at Lucky Strike Orange is one of the original businesses at The Outlets at Orange. , MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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With the stadium as a backdrop, members of the Pride of Chapman pep band play on Wilson Field at Chapman University during rehearsal early one morning in Septemeber. , MARK RIGHTMIRE, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Diane Vasilj, left, Susie Lutsky and Lisa Mullin, right, make their way down Orange Park Blvd while on a quick ride in Orange Park Acres. , MATT MASIN, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Chapman University’s Holly the Panther statue is named after Holly Wilson. , JOSHUA SUDOCK, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Along North Canon Street, those willing to make a small hike can climb the hills in the El Modena Open Space for an excellent view of Orange’s suburban neighborhoods and streets from a high distance. , FILE: KEVIN LARA, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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The plaza, known for its unique downtown group of antique stores, is also becoming a lively spot for young crowds and adults to enjoy a night out at restaurants and bars. , FILE: KEVIN LARA, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Children’s Hospital of Orange County’s new seven-story Bill Holmes Tower is among one of the most advanced and safest children’s hospitals in the world. COURTESY OF CHOC

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1887: Orange Plaza shoos animals, gets a fountain An eyesore. That’s what the intersection of Chapman and Glassell was back in the 1870s. Ranchers left horses, sheep and chickens there while getting supplies. Merchants put in water troughs for the animals. By 1886, however, the townsfolk had enough of those squawking chickens and smelly sheep. They outlawed animals and raised $ 535 (through bake sales) to buy a new fountain in 1887. Soon came flowers, shrubs, trees and the Orange Plaza (or Orange Circle) we know today. COURTESY OF FIRST AMERICAN

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The afternoon heat keeps the crowds down during the Orange International Street Fair last year. , FILE: KEVIN SULLIVAN, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Visitors line up alone the sidewalk outside of a historic home on Maple Ave. during the Old Towne Preservation Association’s biannual Home Tour in 2013. , FILE: MACKENZIE REISS, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Orange City Manager Rick Otto says the Outlets at Orange, once the Block at Orange, have seen a positive turnaround. , MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Other economic drivers are the city’s hospitals, which include CHOC Children’s Hospital as well as St. Joseph Hospital of Orange. The hospitals are so large and have such a strong reputation, Otto says, that related medical businesses battle for space and employees fill area food shops and restaurants. , FILE: JEBB HARRIS, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Demographics: 46.8 percent white; 38.1 percent Latino; 11.3 percent Asian; 4 percent two or more races

Source: U.S. Census

This is part of an ongoing series highlighting every Orange County city.

Six miles from the Orange Plaza, City Manager Rick Otto gazes over the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains and predicts that construction will start on 1,500 new homes within the next year.

It’s an astonishing statement, partly because it speaks to the exceptional amount of building going on throughout Orange County. But it also brings to mind that few of us realize the extensive reach of one of our largest cities.

While businesses adjacent to the roundabout at the plaza get plenty of attention as they transition from antique shops to restaurants and pubs, the rest of this city flies relatively under the radar. Yet there are few municipalities in our county with the passionate diversity of Orange.

Near the plaza, residents painstakingly restore historic Victorian and craftsman homes. In the El Modena neighborhood, homeowners bask in the sunlight of airy Eichler architecture. In Orange Park Acres, locals closely guard the sanctity of horse trails.

From the Outlets at Orange west of I-5 to the 241 toll road on the east, from the Anaheim Hills on the north to the 22 on the south, Orange is a city determined to hold onto its own.

“This is a local, local town,” Otto says of the 127-year-old city. “Generations have lived here with a lot of local pride.”

Mall rebounds

Otto cruises City Boulevard, which circles the Outlets at Orange. Just four years ago, the area was called the Block at Orange, and the center became known for rowdy patrons, stores that disappeared and struggling restaurants.

The change is impressive. We pass a Banana Republic Factory Store, a Dave and Buster’s, an Old Navy Outlet, a Nordstrom Rack, a Neiman Marcus Last Call. The list goes on. In all, the operators claim about 120 “outlet and value stores.”

Since the Simon Co. partnered with the Block operator, the Mills Co., Otto says there’s been a successful turnaround. He reports office and retail space are fully leased, that nearby apartment buildings are doing well, more units are being built and that the Outlets is the major economic engine for the city.

Is the city concerned about competition from a new outlet mall coming to San Clemente? Otto points out it’s a long drive from North County, and there’s room for both malls.

Staff concessions

The success of the Outlets comes at an opportune time. Like most cities, Orange suffered losses during the recession.

Orange had to give back $ 40 million in redevelopment money to Sacramento. Through attrition and staff concessions, the city managed to avoid layoffs, something that makes Otto intensely appreciative and proud. “Our employees are part of a family. There’s a great culture here.”

Still, with 640 full-time employees, Otto doesn’t expect Orange to return to pre-recession staffing levels that included an additional 70 employees.

Today, Otto says the city is on solid financial footing. Orange spends about $ 26 million a year on infrastructure with $ 7.1 million for roads, $ 2 million going toward maintaining water lines and another $ 600,000 on sewers. He points out Orange also has its own police and fire departments.

“It’s the public infrastructure,” the city manager explains, “that brings in the business.”

Other commercial operations, he says, are equally strong. They includes the Village at Orange and its Wal-Mart as well as medium-size businesses in the city’s light industrial sections.

Other economic drivers are the city’s hospitals, which include Children’s Hospital of Orange County as well as St. Joseph Hospital of Orange. The hospitals are so large and have such a strong reputation, Otto says, that related medical businesses battle for space and employees fill area food shops and restaurants.

Neighborhood issues

Of course, Orange is well-known as the home of Chapman University. But for many locals, the institution is less about pride than it is reason for concern.

In the last few decades, the campus has seen enormous expansion. There is a seemingly never-ending series of new buildings. Since 2003, the university has nearly doubled its enrollment. This semester, it has more than 6,000 undergraduates.

“Chapman has brought growth pains,” Otto says. “Consider what Chapman was 20 years ago and today. I don’t think there is a university in the U.S. that has seen that kind of growth.”

The city manager also points out, “It’s not like the city and the college grew together.”

He says the city puts tight controls on construction in its 1-square-mile Historic District that includes what is believed to be the oldest bank in the county. Accordingly, campus buildings are limited to going up three stories with an additional story underground.

While new buildings remain a point of contention, the angriest complaints concern students who live off campus. Otto says that too often a homeowner will rent a house to a group of rowdy students, but the neighbor next door expects the quiet of a residential neighborhood.

The city manager says he works closely with the university. Still, he is blunt about his allegiances. “Preserving neighborhoods is job No. 1.”

Otto explains it’s not just late, noisy parties. More often, he says resident complaints are about something like a student’s loud television at 3 a.m.

“These issue must be addressed,” Otto says, “to preserve our neighborhoods.”

After we talk, I return to where the 1,500 homes will be built, an area where the original plan was to build 7,000 homes. Some may be concerned about development. Yet if you look eastward, beyond the 241 toll road, you see vast wilderness that includes Irvine Co. land.

The Irvine Co. has deeded most of that land to remain open space. It’s about stewardship and legacy. But, like the neighborhood issue around Chapman University, it’s also about preservation. And it’s about compromise.

Contact the writer: dwhiting@ocregister.com

The Orange County Register – News Headlines : Real Estate News