Garden Grove

Willowick project is slowed for now

WILLOWICK GOLF COURSE: What will its future be? (OC Tribune photo).

By Jim Tortolano

Plans for an expansive – and potentially lucrative – new use for the Willowick Golf Course site owned by Garden Grove but located in Santa Ana hit a roadblock or a perhaps just a speed bump on Tuesday.

After a decision Tuesday by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel issuing a preliminary injunction preventing Garden Grove from signing a deal with MWWillowick, LLC for development of the 101.5-acre site, the city council dropped the matter from its agenda.

Strobel’s ruling will bar the city from concluding a deal before a new state law regarding the definition of “surplus land” goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Although a setback, Mayor Steve Jones struck an optimistic note after Tuesday’s council meeting.

“I think we’re in the early innings of a long process, and we’re looking forward to following all the rules we’re supposed to and ultimately seeing some repositioning of the site in due time,” he said.

Those protesting the potential reuse of the location, including the Rise Up Willowick coalition, have argued in favor of open space and affordable housing at the venerable golf course, which dates back to the 1920s and which been owned by Garden Grove since 1964. Is there room for a middle ground between the visions of the contending parties?

“I think the original vision has always included a balanced approach at what will ultimately be developed on this site, so I don’t think there’s been any deviation from that,” said Jones. “There just wasn’t clear communication as a result of lawsuits being filed and that sort of thing that hinder the communications process, but beneath it all I think there’s always been a kind of high level of understanding that there will be a balanced development program that ultimately prevails for the site.”

Last week, when the council was originally scheduled to vote on the master development agreement, the chamber was filled with angry Santa Ana residents and their supporters, expressing concern that a higher use of the land would spur “gentrification” which would raise housing costs and drive current residents away or even into homelessness.

A decision on the issue was postponed a week to a special meeting.

But Tuesday night – although there were several audience members who spoke on the issue – the tone was more conciliatory.

“I’m happy that the vote is not taking place,” said Cynthia Guerra. “But it should not have happened.” Many speakers expressed hope that the court’s ruling would lead to a new era of improved communications between the city and residents near Willowick.

The potential for development of one of the last open spaces in highly-developed central Orange County led to ideas from a consultant such as a stadium project, a mixed-use project and an agricultural/low density development. The proposed master developer agreement did not specify any specific use.




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