Private student housing project causes concern

The Killefer School, a part of Orange’s historic Cypress Street Barrio, may be turned into a privately-owned housing complex for students – an idea that some residents have expressed concern about. Photo courtesy of Panther Archives

Some residents worried about student impact on community

Some Orange residents are concerned about the historic Killefer School’s possible future as a privately-owned housing complex for Chapman students.

Members of the Orange Barrio Historic Society spoke up at a community discussion hosted by the project’s leaders in Killefer Park April 22 about the impact that this development could have on traffic, parking and property value.

Developers plan to transform the school into a complex called Killefer Square, designed to house 341 Chapman students, said Leason Pomeroy, the lead architect on the project. The school, which borders on the historic district of Orange, is in escrow for $5.1 million.

“What’s cool about this project is we are going to take all those 341 kids out of that neighborhood, out of those houses, and their cars, and put them in here,” Pomeroy said.

A barrio is a part of a U.S. town that is primarily Spanish-speaking.

Orange’s barrio neighborhood is on Cypress Street, one block away from the Killefer School, which is on Lemon Street.

The Killefer School recently earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, which is a list of the nation’s historic places “worthy of preservation.”

Pomeroy said that the property, which is currently in “horrible disrepair,” was not on the national register initially and the original plan for the building has since been modified to preserve the building and address the concerns of both the Old Towne Preservation Association and the local barrio community.

National historian Douglas Westfall, who attended the event, said the Killefer School may be the only remaining school that was desegregated in the 1940s before it was required by law in California.

Paul Guzman, an Orange resident who attended the event, said that he was one of the first transfer students when the Killefer School became integrated in 1944, and called the proposed development an “emotional deal.”

Guzman said that he understands that it is not financially feasible to leave the property the way it is, so he is trying to look at both sides of the issue.

“I still remember in my mind every little detail, what this whole area was,” Guzman said. “I want to see the people in the community come out and see what’s going on. That’s more important than the building itself.”

Orange resident Jerome Ryan said he thinks the root of the problem is not the building, but the fact that the number of students at Chapman is growing beyond what is practical in a small town.

Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Mike Pelly told The Panther in March 2016 that the university’s plan to increase enrollment calls for about 2 percent growth of the freshman class, which translates to about 28 students per year, Pelly said.

“We can’t have mass numbers of more people living on our street. This is going to destroy this neighborhood,” Ryan said.

Pomeroy said that he is working with the Old Towne Preservation Association to preserve the culture and character of the building, in addition to its architecture.

“Along the walkway, we are going to do little monuments that will tell the history of the school on a year-by-year basis, and maybe even put the names of all the people who graduated from the school (in the 1940s),” Pomeroy said. “We’re making an effort in any way we can to satisfy the people who are anxious.”

Community members at the event also expressed concerns about the impact the student housing complex would have on the traffic in the area.

“I feel more housing is not necessary because it is going to cause more congestion,” said Alma Romo, an Orange resident, adding that she often can’t find parking in the surrounding neighborhood because spots are being taken by Chapman students.

Pomeroy said that the project will benefit Orange and reduce congestion because students living in the complex will be able to park their cars in the proposed two-level underground parking garage, rather than on the street, citing a traffic report in the proposal.

Austin Violette, a junior business administration and economics major who lives in Panther Village – which has a regular shuttle service to Chapman’s main campus – said that if he lived as close as the Killefer School, he would walk to campus all the time.

“Another place that was within walking distance would be pretty nice in my opinion,” Violette said.

President Daniele Struppa told The Panther in September that because the development is privately owned, it is not likely that financial aid would be available for students who choose to live there.

Violette said that he receives additional financial aid for living in Panther Village, which he said has played a big part in his decision to live in university-sanctioned housing for the past three years.

“If there was something that was closer that was better where you could still retain that portion of your scholarship, I think it would be good,” Violette said.

Pomeroy said that Killefer Square will have rental payment plans modeled after the university’s housing rates.

“We want this to feel like it’s a Chapman University property. (The only difference) is that it’s privately owned,” Pomeroy said.

The complex would likely only be rented to students because of its design, Pomeroy said, but would be open to other students, like those from California State University, Fullerton.

Sophomore English major Alana Reiss said that she likes the idea of having housing open to students from different schools.

“It would be a living option that would be less insular,” she said.

A complete environmental impact report was conducted on the property. The report will be available for public review and comment later this spring and revised accordingly, Pomeroy said. The document will be available on both the city of Orange website and the Killefer Square website.

The Design Review Committee will then review the final proposed plan this summer, followed by public hearings by the Orange Planning Commission and Orange City Council fall 2017, Pomeroy said.

Pomeroy said that his team plans to close on the property within the next year.

“It’s been a really challenging project and we feel that we’ve come a long way and have given a lot to get it to where it is,” Pomeroy said. “We’re confident that this thing will be open to students in a couple years.”

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