IRVINE — A much-debated plan to build Orange County’s first military veterans cemetery at the former El Toro Marine base may be facing another stumbling block.
Instead of donating 125 acres of land to the state all at once for the cemetery, Irvine is considering giving portions of it in phases so the city can use some of it for other purposes such as hotels and housing.
However, some City Council members, veterans and developer FivePoint, which currently owns the proposed cemetery site and is negotiating a land swap deal with the city, say such a move could stall and jeopardize the project.
“We don’t have time to do this forever,” said Bill Cook, a Vietnam War veteran who heads the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation formed to back construction of a cemetery. “Veterans are getting older.”
The City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 26, will discuss and vote on the acre-to-acre swapping of the city’s 125 acres at the northeast area of the Orange County Great Park with FivePoint’s property near the I-5/I-405 interchange.
City staff and FivePoint officials have been negotiating the deal since the City Council in June decided to change the cemetery location to the FivePoint land.
FivePoint has offered to contribute $10 million toward the construction of the cemetery. The company also requests that the right to develop 812,000 square feet of research and development uses at its freeway property be moved to the Great Park site.
A study showed that the land swap won’t create additional traffic, and staff recommends approving the necessary zoning change, according to a report the city prepared for Tuesday’s meeting.
A few days ago, however, the city notified FivePoint that it now wants to donate to the state only 25 acres of the freeway property necessary to build the first phase of the cemetery, FivePoint CEO Emile Haddad said Thursday, Sept. 21 in a phone interview with the Register.
The city wants to donate the rest of the 100 acres in phases as the state expands the cemetery, and in the meantime, Irvine plans to use the land to generate revenue, Haddad said.
FivePoint offered its prime freeway property, Haddad said, so the state can build a cemetery, not so the city can make money.
“If that’s the case, I want to keep the land and develop it myself,” he said. “I’m disappointed for the veterans and I feel the veterans have not been served right.”
FivePoint won’t agree to the deal unless the land is restricted for…