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Locals resist church's senior living facility

March 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Catholic Church officials in Orange County are involved in a zoning dispute over a piece of land in North Tustin. The diocese wants to build a senior living facility on the 11800 block of Newport Ave. Nearby residents are fighting that plan.

Joe Gonzalez fears he could lose his view if a proposed development is built on the land behind his North Tustin home.

"It's a monster -- it just sticks in the middle -- it just doesn't fit," said Gonzalez.

The project is scheduled to include buildings no higher than 35 feet, proposed by the landowner, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.

The diocese would like to build a senior living community, including more than 150 units.

Initial plans to build a church faced opposition. Now the proposed senior living facility also faces controversy because the complex would sit in the middle of a residential area currently zoned for single family homes, churches or schools, not multi-family commercial developments.

"This is zoned as a single family residential area. When we bought, we assumed that that's what it was going to be. Little did we know that this could be changed," said Gonzalez.

"It's not a commercial activity, it's clearly residential. Seniors deserve to live in residential neighborhoods," said Carol McDermott, a principal at Government Solutions Inc. representing the diocese.

Those against the project presented binders full of petitions hoping to urge the Orange County Board of Supervisors not to allow the re-zoning.

"I am specifically opposed to spot-zoning for one powerful political interest, the Catholic Church," said North Tustin resident Charles Vitello.

"This proposed project, I think, would probably fit in better than any other alternate use for that property," said North Tustin resident Manny Padilla.

The diocese insists the project will fit the look of the community. Residents' views of the hills won't be blocked. The development will be run as a non-profit organization, providing much-needed housing for seniors.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors approved the plan Tuesday evening.