Mario Barbosa

Mario Barbosa (left) of Chino tells Chino City Council members Tuesday night that the proposed Chino Francis Estates "does not fit" in an area of acre and half-acre rural properties. Developers had wanted to change the zoning density of a 13.35-acre site from two homes per acre to 4.5.

A field on the northwest corner of Francis and Yorba avenues in the unincorporated area north of Chino will remain undeveloped for now after the Chino City Council voted Tuesday night to deny a request to annex the land and increase its dwelling density zoning so high-end homes and a neighborhood park could be built there.

In its 3-2 decision, the council majority bucked the Chino Planning Commission’s 3-2 vote and the city staff’s recommendation to approve the Chino Francis Estates development, citing a need to stick with the city’s General Plan that has the property designated for two homes per acre. Chino Mayor Eunice Ulloa and councilmembers Mark Hargrove and Marc Lucio opposed the project. Councilmembers Tom Haughey and Paul Rodriguez were in favor.

The developer Chino Francis Estates LLC of Los Angeles, also known as Borstein Enterprises, had asked the city to annex the 13.35-acre property and re-zone it from two homes per acre to 4.5. The development as planned, would have had approximately 3.2 homes per acre, according to the developers.

Borstein had planned to build 39 single-family, single-story homes at the site, on lots ranging from 8,130-square-feet to 16,920-square-feet, with an average square footage of 10,000-square-feet. The 4- and 5-bedroom homes were to have sold for $805,000 to $960,000.

A 14,953-square-foot private park was also planned on a corner of the site.

The proposed development site, containing an older home and numerous wooden rabbit hutches from its days as a rabbit farm, is surrounded by ½-acre and acre properties on its north, east and west boundaries, and tract homes on smaller lots to the south.

Having their say

More than 40 speakers – mostly longtime neighbors of the site and nearly equally split on the project – spoke during the meeting.

Proponents of the residential project, many in green shirts with the slogan “Vote Yes for Chino,” said the property site was an eyesore and a popular spot for illegal dumping, drug use and illegal fireworks. They said they welcomed the new homes because they would greatly improve the neighborhood and provide needed sidewalks and curbs. They worried that higher density homes or apartment complexes might be built there in the future in order for the county or the city of Chino to meet required affordable housing numbers set by the state.

In October, the state decreed that a six-county region, including San Bernardino County, must build 1.34 million affordable housing units over an eight-year period beginning in 2021 and ending in 2029. Under that plan, Chino would have to build 8,361 affordable housing units, a number that Mayor Ulloa called “beyond reason” at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Opponents of the project included 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.

Among the opponents’ concerns were increased traffic on surrounding streets, increased flooding issues in the area which has been prone to water runoff during rainstorms, and loss of the longtime rural nature of the neighborhood. They also feared that changing the dwelling density of the property would open the door to other developers who would want to build even denser projects. Most of the opponents said the city should stick to its General Plan of two homes per acre for the site.

Council comments

The General Plan figured prominently in the decision by the councilmembers who voted against the project.

Councilman Hargrove, who said he spent many sleepless nights going over all the documents regarding the project, was concerned that “any time people want to change the General Plan, it comes down to five people to decide,” referring to the council. He said he prefers that the plan only be changed when there is more input.

Mr. Hargrove also worried that Borstein might sell the property to another developer who would increase the density to the 4.5 homes per acre, versus the 3.2 that Borstein planned. City staff said that if a new developer came along, they would have to submit a new plan to present to the city for approval.

Mayor Ulloa expressed concerns about flooding in the area, that the homes planned are not affordable housing, and that the change in density would reduce the number of low-density housing options in Chino. She also said the project could open the door to developers, requesting higher-density projects on other properties in the area of north Chino.

She said that although new homeowners often say they are fine with surrounding rural properties, that often does not pan out. The mayor said residents of tract homes in the Preserve area of south Chino had to sign a form saying they were aware of intense agriculture use in the area, “but they still raised holy hell” over the smell and flies generated by nearby dairies.

She said she had asked the developer to wait on proposing its project until the city could complete its master plan for possible annexation of north Chino, but the developer moved ahead.

During his comments, Councilman Lucio, did not tip his hand on how he would vote, asking instead how piecemeal annexation versus annexation of an entire area would affect Chino. City staff said the cost to the city, for infrastructure and city services, depends on different scenarios and how much cost the city would be willing to bear.

Councilman Haughey, who asked about flooding prevention measures the developer planned, said his decision came down to deciding how 13 additional homes – the difference of building 26 homes at a density of two per acre versus 39 homes at 4.5 per acre – would actually affect the area.

He said he believes it is the council’s obligation to look at projects on their individual merits.

Councilman Rodriguez said the city needs to look ahead at what affect the state’s requirement for affordable housing would have on the Chino Francis Estates property if the 39 homes were not approved. He also said that Chino has changed over the years to accommodate its residents’ housing needs. A longtime resident, Councilman Rodriguez said he had witnessed dairy and farmland giving way to homes and businesses as the city evolved.

He also said the General Plan is a fluid document, subject to change as the community changes. “The only plan that I have read that never changes is the Ten Commandments,” he said.

“I am going to vote yes for this project for two reasons: it’s better use of the property than it is right now, and this property is low density,” Councilman Rodriguez said. “It is a project that will be transformational for this area, for positive change.”

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