University officials respond to mayor’s complaints about science center

Although the Specific Plan, which is an agreement between the city and Chapman about architectural regulations, states that university buildings on Center Street cannot exceed 55 feet, there as an exception for when parts of a building are deemed “integral,” like the white arch design pictured above. This exception allows the center to be up to 61 feet tall. Photo by Bonnie Cash

Mayor Tita Smith criticized the construction of the new Center for Science and Technology at an Old Towne Preservation Association forum April 12, but university officials told The Panther this is the first time they’ve heard this complaint from her.

Smith said that the new center is “way too big” and “too tall” and that she doesn’t want to see any other building of its size built on the east side of campus.

“That boundary is not listed in the specific plan,” Smith said at the open forum. “I’m going to insist on no growth of Chapman east of Center Street.”

Mayor of Orange Tita Smith speaks at the Old Towne Preservation Association meeting April 12, where she said that the new Center for Science and Technology is “way too big.”

The Panther reached out to Smith for comment multiple times, but she said that she was unavailable to be interviewed for this story.

Vice President of Campus Planning Kris Olsen and Vice President of Community Relations Jack Raubolt both said relations between the city and the school are in good standing and that they haven’t heard Smith express these complaints before.

“In my opinion, the relationship (between) city management and staff has never been better,” Olsen told The Panther in an email. “We have a very good working relationship regarding our planned projects and their potential impacts.”

According to Chapman’s Specific Plan, the maximum height of buildings on Glassell Street cannot exceed 62 feet. On the remainder of the campus, buildings can be up to 55 feet in height, but the Orange Design Review Committee granted an exception for the Center for Science and Technology to be between 54 and 61 feet tall.

The Chapman University Specific Plan, a document originally created in 1989, lays out the rules and regulations that the university must follow for current and future buildings. It has been amended six times, with the most recent amendment taking place in 2012. The sixth amendment to the document – which discussed adding student housing, parking and the Musco Center for the Arts – was unanimously approved by the Orange City Council, including Smith.

The science center was not specifically addressed in the sixth amendment to the plan, but the document lays out the areas of campus that may be developed, including the lot where the center is being built. Chapman proposed the Center for Science and Technology to the city’s Design Review Committee in March 2014, and the committee reviewed the proposal by August of the same year. Smith is not a member of this committee, but the height of the center and its dimensions were stated.

Raubolt said he did not expect Smith’s comment because she voted in favor of the sixth amendment to the document and because the details of building design guidelines, which are publicly available, are stated explicitly.

Olsen wrote in an email to The Panther that the vetting process for any amendment or expansion proposal is thorough enough that by the time a plan is approved, all the details are worked through.

“The complete design package (for the center), including specific dimensions, numerous renderings, shade and shadow studies and massing studies, were reviewed and approved by the city’s Staff Review Committee, the Design Review Committee and the Community Development Director,” Olsen wrote. “This very public process took about two years from initial submission to building permit issuance.”

According to the Specific Plan, the maximum height of a building or other structure is “62 feet within a limited area along Glassell Street and 55 feet for the remainder of the campus.”

However, there is an exception to the rule. According to the Design Review Committee’s evaluation of the center, the Specific Plan states that any parts of the building that are architectural or deemed “integral” can be higher if the height increase is approved by the committee.

In the case of the Center for Science and Technology, the “integral” part of the building is the white “tensile shade design,” according to a Design Review Committee agenda item, which are the white metal columns on the roof. As a result, in August 2014, the committee granted that the center could be between 54 and 61 feet tall.

The construction on Center Street has made living there a challenge for some Orange residents. Orange resident Evan Oliver said that she is one of a few residents left on the street, because many of the houses are now owned by the university.

“The amount of time it’s taking and what it’s done to our street is terrible,” Oliver said. “My dog is afraid to go for walks because of the noise.”

Oliver said that she has lived on Center Street for a year and that she plans on staying through the construction, but that she is eager for the building to be completed.

She added that the height of the building isn’t bothersome to her because it shades the houses from the sun, but this comes at the cost of the noise.

In terms of the university expanding east of Center Street, Raubolt said that the university and the city of Orange have a “handshake deal” that nothing will be built past this boundary. However, he said that Smith wants to see this in writing in the seventh amendment to the Specific Plan, which was proposed in May of 2015 and has not yet been approved. He said making sure this happens is one of her goals before she leaves office.

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