IUSD eager to discuss Great Park schools as developer announces plans for 5,000 homes

City of Irvine officials held a joint news conference this week with representatives from FivePoint Communities to announce the first phase of residential development at the Orange County Great Park.

Monday’s announcement aligned with FivePoint’s formal submission of plans for nearly 5,000 homes on the former site of the El Toro Marine Base. FivePoint CEO Emile Haddad told the gathered crowd that his company expects the first residents to occupy the mix of attached and single-family detached homes in 2013.

(The Orange County Register has the full story here. The Voice of OC also offers coverage on its website.)

Stretching more than 1,300 acres, the Great Park is being touted as a true public-private partnership and the first great metropolitan park of the 21st Century. Along with adjacent residential neighborhoods, five million square feet has been set aside for commercial space, educational institutions and other uses, according to the FivePoint website.

But it’s the housing component that is of particular interest to the Irvine Unified School District, which will be responsible for providing top-notch schools.

“Our objective is, and has always been, to provide schools of the highest caliber for the families of Irvine,” said Sue Kuwabara, president of the IUSD Board of Education. “Just as our district’s founding leaders had the foresight to establish the educational environments we have today, we believe it is our moral responsibility to ensure that future students have access to Irvine-quality schools in their neighborhoods, whether they live in Woodbridge, Turtle Rock or in new homes near the Great Park.”

In recent years, district officials have negotiated with FivePoint Communities in an effort to reach a mitigation agreement that would enable IUSD to fund and build Irvine-quality schools to serve the Great Park neighborhoods.

“While we are pleased to resume discussions with details of FivePoint’s residential plan, we continue to have serious concerns about a potential funding gap,” Kuwabara said this week.

Based on current projections, it will cost approximately $150 million to build the facilities needed to accommodate the initial 5,000 homes in the Great Park development. FivePoint has proposed utilizing the property tax increment as a funding source, and this could generate significant funding over time. But future incremental taxes are not immediately accessible, and there are restrictions on issuing bonds. Without guaranteed funding up front, district officials have expressed concern that neighborhood schools will not be available when students arrive.

“There are strict bonding limitations that severely limit our ability to borrow against the property tax increment,” Superintendent Gwen Gross said. “For that reason, we hope to continue negotiations with FivePoint Communities to reach a mitigation agreement that will ensure neighborhoods of the Great Park have schools on par with the rest of the district.”

“On its website, Great Park Neighborhoods has promised that the new community will have everything Irvine is known for, including great schools,” Gross said. “Our aim is to work closely with FivePoint to ensure these great schools become a reality for students and a source of pride for generations to come.”