By Daniel Hernandez
La Habra Journal
A shopping center with a coffee shop atmosphere, a place where the community can congregate and the possibility of the city’s first commercial real estate development — La Habra Heights city officials voted, 4-1, to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement (ENA) with Prism Realty Corp. of Orange County, who may be interested in breaking the city’s rural barriers and opening up such ventures.
LHH Councilman Roy Francis cast the lone no vote for the ENA, while the other four elected officials expressed curiosity and some interest in what plans Prism Realty has to offer the city, citing no immediate intention on allowing the commercial real estate developers to purchase the land.
“I don’t think there’s any harm in getting information from that group (Prism Realty),” LHH Mayor Pro Tem Kyle Miller said. “It doesn’t require us to approve or take any action, so if they’re interested, I’m interested in hearing what they have to say.”
The private investor, Costa Mesa-based Prism Realty, approached the city in December 2014 concerning the parcel of land located near The Park on the corner of Hacienda and West Road, according to Ben Kim, the city’s principal planner.
The approved ENA is a guarantee from the city for 180 days to not entertain any other offers from other companies who may want to purchase the 2.99 acre vacant parcel of land, which the city purchased from Los Angeles County around 2004.
The ENA also includes the option of extending the agreement to an additional three more 180 day periods of exclusivity.
“Everything that Prism does during this ENA period will likely help to improve the fair market value of the property,” City Manager Shauna Clark said.
The property, which was purchased by the city for a new fire station and city hall, is currently not up for sale, but once the city hall and the fire department were built in its current place, the land became known as surplus, Clark said.
If officials decide to begin the process of selling the property, the city needs to declare the property surplus to other government and quasi government entities, which include low cost housing developers, surrounding cities, the county, water districts and school districts, Clark said.
“Those other governments then have first right of refusal to purchase the property for their own use. They have to pay fair market value,” Clark wrote in an email.
After tallying the lone no vote for the ENA, Francis expressed concern in opening up the doors to Prism Realty by allowing the company to outline the details of its plans to the city.
“When I ran for city council both times, I said I would do my best to uphold the general plan. The general plan says there’s no commercial development,” Francis said. “My feeling was, you know, take it to the voters. If they want to change it, okay.”
Residents who took to the podium explained some other possible unintended consequences of opening up to the possibility of commercial development in LHH.
“Realistically if we allow one area to be developed for commercial real estate, there’s no way for us to say no to anywhere else in the city,” LHH resident Scott Thomas said.
Thomas also expressed concern about added traffic and the spending required to maintain the roads from the added traffic.
“This is not compatible with our lifestyle in the Heights. This is not compatible with our goals in the Heights as I have always understood them,” Thomas said.
LHH Mayor Michael Higgins seemed open to the possibility of adding an asset to the city with potential revenue.
Currently the city has only one commercial area, a real estate office.
“I can envision a project that could enhance the rural aspect,” Higgins said.
Except for Francis, council members entertained the idea of listening to what Prism Realty had to offer for the vacant land sitting unused in a heavy traffic flow area.
“It’s a parcel of land by itself just sitting there vacant. It really doesn’t have much value,” LH Heights Councilman Brian Bergman said.
A place for the neighborhood community to gather and discuss ideas in a project designed to blend in with the city, if done right, could serve the community well, Miller said about how he envisions the property being developed.
But even if city officials entertain the idea of selling the property to Prism with the intention to develop it commercially, the city would need a zone change.
“The lot is zoned for public facilities (PF). No one, except another government, could acquire and do anything on that lot without a zone change,” Clark said in the email. “A zone change is an extensive process involving planning, public hearings, the planning commission and eventually the council.”