By Kathy Lee Scott/Garden Grove Journal
For a one-block stretch of stores, offices and eateries, Garden Grove’s historic Main Street has more than its share of controversy and drama. In recent years some property owners and merchants fought a legal battle against a proposed condominium development in the parking lot serving the area.
The city and developer ultimately prevailed in court, but the delay and the sinking economy scuttled the plan. But recently, the notion has resurfaced and opponents have been keeping a wary watch.
For two years, Main Street business owners in Garden Grove watched for activity on the 1.7-acre parking lot that services their customers. For two years, nothing happened.
Then some machinery showed up and workers drilled into the soil. But that, too, stopped.
In early July, Scott Weimer, owner of Weimer & Associates, 12866 Main Street, #100, Garden Grove, sent an anxious e-mail to his fellow business owners. “The city is once again peddling Historic Main Street’s west parking lot to a developer, the Olson Company,” he wrote.
His persistent monitoring of the situation unearthed news that the Seal Beach-based company might start building on the lot.
According to Karl Hill, Garden Grove’s planning manager, Olson had done some core sampling. It also discussed a concept of around 40 townhomes, with some site modification for public and guest parking spots, with the planning department. “But the city manager insisted any project follow the agreement for high-density residences and live-work units,” Hill said.
“Several developers have expressed interest in that site,” he added. “This doesn’t mean that any will come to fruition.”
Parking lot 1, as the site west of Main Street is known, became a pawn between the city and Main Street business owners.
In October 2006, the city council signed a contract with Sheldon Public Relations, Inc., to build a five-story, 100-unit, 140,000-square-foot condo complex with underground parking on the large site.
Included in the plan were 12 live-work units that face Grove Avenue.
Because the lot sat in a redevelopment project area, the city’s redevelopment agency owned it. The agency transferred the property to the city, which then sold it for $1.5 million to Sheldon.
Members of the Garden Grove Downtown Business Association objected. They claimed the city, agency and Stephen Sheldon violated state and city statutes when they bypassed the Parking and Main Street Commission to make the deal.
Even though the downtown group and Sheldon hammered out a settlement, the city refused to accept it. Eventually, the case went to court, and in 2008, the court sided with the city, agency and Sheldon.
Since then, the recession made financing any building on the site difficult to obtain. “Right now the market is soft for this type of project,” said City Manager Matthew Fertal.
Newport Beach-based Sheldon PR has until Dec. 31 to apply for permits to build the project. If it fails to ask for them, the land reverts back to the city.
Sheldon can request an extension, but if he wants to modify the project, he would need to take it through the approval process again, Hill said.
“We’d have a chance to challenge the outdated parking study then,” said Peter Katz, chair of the Main Street Commission and owner of Main Street Postal Center, 12877 Main St.
Katz put the issue on the Main Street Commission’s July agenda. “There were all kinds of rumors about what was happening,” he said.
At the meeting, Fertal told the members that the Olson Company had tested the soil. But its plan revised the project, dropping the potential number of people in the area. “It’s not what we envisioned for Main Street,” he said.
For those hating the Main Street condo plan, Dec. 31 can’t come fast enough.
“We have nothing to worry about right now,” said Weimer, who spearheaded the lawsuit to stop the project earlier. “I suspect Sheldon intended to sell the lot off all along. He hasn’t built anything.”