Council approves veterans cemetery land exchange, zoning changes
The council's action, after nearly two hours of testimony, triggered applause among the many veterans who filled the council chambers and wore bright yellow baseball caps with "Southern California Veterans Cemetery" emblems, in a strong show of support for the land exchange.
The special single-topic meeting was called for by Mayor Don Wagner who opened the meeting with a motion for a full land exchange, “an acre-for-acre” transfer of property from the ARDA Transfer site located near Irvine Blvd. to the freeway-adjacent site at the El Toro Y. The motion was seconded by Councilmember Christina Shea, who called the decision "historic."
"We are glad that the mayor clarified and simplified matters," said Emile Haddad, Chairman and CEO of FivePoint, the land developer that agreed to the land exchange when approached by the veterans nearly two years ago. "We stand behind our term sheet which we sent on June 5, and today's vote allows us to move forward on that basis."
Voting in favor of the land exchange were Wagner, Shea and Councilmember Melissa Fox. Councilmembers Jeff Lalloway and Lynn Schott voted against the exchange.
Once the land deed transfer is completed, the city will immediately transfer ownership of the property to the state, under the purview of Cal Vet, the California Department of Veterans Affairs.
After voting on the land exchange the council went into a closed session for discussion and emerged shortly after to vote on the zoning changes related to the land exchange. In a 3-2 vote (Wagner, Shea and Fox approved; Lalloway and Schott against), amendments to zoning were approved that transfer entitlements for some 800,000 square feet of R&D space from the strawberry field site to the ARDA site. The council’s vote included a stipulation that the new cemetery site may only be used for a cemetery, or for agricultural use in the interim.
Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who introduced the state bill to establish the cemetery in Irvine, told the OC Register that if things go smoothly, construction could start as early as October 2018.
She added that the next steps include a site analysis by the state, preparing an environmental report and applying for a $10 million federal grant by June of next year.
The state has already approved a budget of $5.5 million for the construction of the cemetery. Land developer FivePoint, current owner of the property has agreed to spend up to $10 million to help construct the first phase. According to Quirk-Silva, the total of $25.5 million should be enough to build the first 25 acres of the cemetery.