Residents against Chino Francis Estates

Residents against changing the density of a proposed residential development in the unincorporated area of Chino, called Chino Francis Estates, hold signs of protest at Monday's Chino Planning Commission meeting. Residents wearing green are in support of the project. The commission voted 4-3 to approve the project, but it will go before the Chino City Council in January for final approval.

The Chino Planning Commission was split and so were the more than 100 people who packed the audience as the commission voted 4-3 Monday night to approve a developer’s request to increase the density on a proposed residential development in the largely rural unincorporated area of north Chino.

The final decision on the change, as well as others regarding the Chino Francis Estates development, rests with the city council, which expects to consider the proposal in January.

Opponents of the density change, who held up protest signs during Monday’s meeting, are already planning their strategy to make the council aware of their reasons for opposition.

Proponents, who wore green T-shirts at the meeting, are also gearing up for the possible showdown at the council meeting. The developer Chino Francis Estates LLC of Los Angeles, also known as Borstein Enterprises, has been actively advertising the property in the Champion and mailed flyers to Chino residents, asking them to fill out a card of support and send it to the council.

Voting to change the city’s General Plan, re-zoning the 13.35-acre property from two homes per acre to 4.5 homes per acre for the development were commissioners Steve Lewis, Brandon Blanchard, Jody Moore and Robert Nastase. Voting against the request were Walt Pocock, Kevin Cisneroz and Jimmy Alexandris.

In the same action, the commission also approved annexing the property, located on the northwest corner of Francis and Yorba avenues, to the city; subdividing the land into 39 numbered lots for homes and two other lots to accommodate a future community park; and a site approval and special conditional use permit for the property.

In a separate action, the commission voted to make the planned 14,953-square-foot park private since homeowners will pay for it through their homeowners association fees and because the only planned entrance to the park is from a cul-de-sac, which commissioners said could cause parking issues if the park was public.

The developer is planning to build 39 single-family, single-story homes on the site, which is surrounded by mostly ½-acre to 1-acre properties. The land is just across the street from the Chino city limits and in one of the areas that was already being considered for annexation to Chino in a study currently underway by the city.

The development is planned for 4- and 5-bedroom homes ranging from 2,280 to 3,590 square feet, each with three-car garages. They will be built on pool-sized lots ranging from 8,130 to 16,920 square feet, with an average lot size of 10,120 square feet, according to the development’s website. Also planned is the small community park, set to include a playground and picnic areas. 

The developer would like to begin construction in summer 2020 with models open by early February 2021, said Erik Pfahler, senior vice president of Borstein, earlier this month. Mr. Pfahler said the homes will probably start in the mid $700,000s.

Members of Protect Chino, a grassroots group that fought and won a battle in 2017 to defeat Measure H that would have allowed D.R. Horton to build 180 housing units on 30 acres south of Francis between Vernon and Benson avenues, is opposing Chino Francis Estates. Measure H was struck down by 83.94 percent of the 6,505 who voted.

Exchanges between the opponents and proponents of the project on Monday were often contentious. At one point, a proponent accused those against the development of not wanting Asian families to move there. 

The accusation was met with loud protest. In another exchange, an opponent yelled “liar, liar, liar” as an official for the development company spoke.

Most of the 43 speakers said they had lived in the area for many years.

Proponents said they approve of the project because they believe the property, which includes old wooden hutches from a former rabbit farm, is unsightly and subject to crime, vandalism and illegal dumping. They said the high-end homes planned will increase the property values for surrounding residents. 

Some were also concerned that if the development is not approved, the state could require high-density apartments on the site in its efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing. Governor Gavin Newsom recently passed several housing laws that could take away local government’s control over residential density.

Opponents said they are concerned about the loss of their longtime rural lifestyle if the project comes to fruition. 

Many said that although the density change is just for this property, it could lead to concessions to other developers. Others, who were concerned about the increased traffic it could create, complained that nearby Ramona Avenue is heavily congested and that Yorba Avenue has become a “raceway” of vehicles speeding through the area. Some also said covering the now vacant land with cement would increase flooding in the area that is already prone to heavy run-off when it rains.

Commissioner Pocock said he was against the project because it will change the city’s General Plan, a broad planning guide for future development goals. One of the residents who opposed the project, suggested putting the General Plan change to a vote of the people.

Jody Moore, who voted for the development, said the General Plan is not a static document. “I know our roots are rural, but the city is changing,” he said.

Commissioner Nastase said he favored the development because it provides housing diversity in Chino, where “detached condominiums are going up like weeds.” He said he fears what the county might do with the property if the large lot development is not approved and annexed to the city. Mr. Nastase said Chino’s own annexation consultant has recommended eight units per acre for the area because that’s what the general public wants. 

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