Buena Park to Replace Shuttered Sears With Apartments and Townhomes

Buena Park to Replace Shuttered Sears With Apartments and Townhomes
The City of Buena Park Civic Center in Buena Park, Calif., in Feb. 2021. (Google Maps/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)
Rudy Blalock

New apartments and townhomes are coming to Buena Park after city councilors voted unanimously June 27 to approve a new multifaceted housing project during a lengthy public hearing.

Five- to seven-story tall buildings with studio to three-bedroom apartments will replace both a shuttered Sears department store and auto center on the corner of La Palma and Stanton avenues, along with three-story townhomes featuring two and three bedrooms and two-car garages.

The re-development, now being called “The Village,” will offer 126 townhomes for sale and 1,176 apartments for rent.

A one-acre park will also be built, and a nearby weekly farmers market will be allowed to continue, according to Jamas Gwilliam with project developer Merlone Geier Partners.

Some residents, however, during the public comment portion of the five-hour hearing on the issue argued the project would bring in too much traffic.

“The density of living, the height of the buildings is intrusive for the surrounding area and additional traffic,” one resident said, saying such would create quality of life issues for nearby homeowners.

But Mr. Gwilliam said if the property were rented out again as commercial space, traffic would be worse.

“If we were to re-lease the existing 267,000 square feet of commercial square footage that we have there, that would be the much worse outcome, from a traffic perspective,” he said.

A permanently closed Sears near the intersection of La Palma and Stanton avenues in Buena Park, Calif., in May 2022. (Google Maps/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)
A permanently closed Sears near the intersection of La Palma and Stanton avenues in Buena Park, Calif., in May 2022. (Google Maps/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

Mayor Pro Tem Susan Sonne supported Mr. Gwilliam’s claims, saying statistically it’s shown that residential buildings attract less traffic than commercial ones.

“The question is when you look at retail versus housing statistics, expert studies show housing causes fewer trips than retail,” she said.

Some, during public comment, said the townhomes were a plus.

“As someone that is looking to purchase her first-time home with her husband, this is an exciting opportunity,” one woman said.

While more complained about the density of the units, others argued that the project could be larger.

According to the city’s 2010 general plan, the area in question could afford 80 units of housing for every acre, but the development will only offer 60.

Additionally, Councilman Jose Trinidad Castaneda said more units would help hit Buena Park’s latest state-mandated affordable housing goals, which require the city zone for around 8,900 units of mixed-income housing by 2029.

“You’re underutilizing land … You could propose the same project, but at much denser levels, much greater number of units, and less parking,” he said.

Of the 1,302 new homes being built, 176 will be earmarked as affordable, which meets the minimum 15 percent requirement for new developments in the city.

Five percent will be for low-income households and 10 percent for those considered moderate-income.

In Orange County, according to the state’s Housing and Community Development Department, households of one to five people earning between $80,400 and $124,000 a year are considered low-income and those earning between $107,350 and $165,600 are deemed moderate-income.

But Mr. Gwilliam, of the development firm, said the project’s density was based on resident and city staff input.

“We could have proposed a much more dense project, if our sole intent was to try and ram something through,” he said. “We did this based on the feedback that we received not just from the community but from staff as well.”

Elizabeth Hansburg, an urban planner for the pro-housing group People for Housing Orange County, applauded the development for its close proximity to public transportation and replacement of declining retail space.

“This project does everything the state is asking us to do: transit-oriented development or at least transit access … replacing declining retail with housing. This project hits those points,” she said.

Lamiya Hoque, an 18-year resident who is also the president of Buena Park’s Centralia Elementary School District, also recommended the developer plan for safe crosswalks and paths for children who may attend some of the district’s nearby schools.

“I request that there are safe walking zones. For example, installing crosswalks and traffic calming measures that will ensure all families and children get to school safely,” she said.

She also said the project could attract more families “in the time of declining enrollment,” for the district to give families a chance “to enroll their children in our award-winning schools.”

Rudy Blalock is a Southern California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times. Originally from Michigan, he moved to California in 2017, and the sunshine and ocean have kept him here since. In his free time, he may be found underwater scuba diving, on top of a mountain hiking or snowboarding—or at home meditating, which helps fuel his active lifestyle.
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