Irvine approves Concordia University’s $200 million renovation plan — with condition it address residents’ concerns

Concordia University Irvine plans to invest $200 million toward renovating and building out its campus atop a hill. (File photo by Tomoya Shimura, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Concordia University Irvine plans to invest $200 million toward renovating and building out its campus atop a hill. (File photo by Tomoya Shimura, Orange County Register/SCNG)

By Tomoya Shimura, Orange County Register

IRVINE — Concordia University Irvine’s $200 million plan to renovate its campus received the green light after university officials made promises to minimize the impact of the project for nearby residents.

The City Council on Tuesday, May 9, voted 4-0 to approve Concordia’s update to its campus build-out plan with conditions that the university work to appease residents concerned about traffic congestion and other issues. Mayor Don Wagner recused himself because his law firm represents Concordia on the matter.

If Concordia violates the agreement, the city has “a whole palette of remedies,” City Attorney Jeff Melching said, such as seeking misdemeanor charges, imposing fines and suing the university.

“It was a hard-won agreement,” Mayor Pro Tem Lynn Schott said. “I think we do have the teeth that the community’s looking for.”

Proposed major facilities on the 70-acre campus include a new music and worship center, a new science and nursing building and athletic field lighting. Concordia officials say the improvements will help the private Lutheran university attract quality students and faculty.

Concordia University Irvine plans to make a $200 million renovations to its campus, including a new Music, Worship & Theology Building shown in the image. (Image courtesy of Concordia University Irvine)

“We are very pleased with the result,” said Ronald Van Blarcom, Concordia’s general counsel and vice president. “We worked very hard with the residents, with the city staff, with the council’s oversight. … I think we’ve all come together and that’s great.”

The university will demolish and replace several buildings. When fully built, the campus will have 321,220 square feet of building space and 330 dorm rooms, compared to the current 243,571 square feet and 256 dorm rooms.

The first of the four-phase project – including the Music, Worship & Theology Building, road improvements, parking lot expansion and NCAA-approved lighting – could break ground this summer, Van Blarcom said.

Concordia’s proposal has revealed the rocky relationships between the university and its surrounding communities, which stems partly from the unique location of the campus.

In the 1990s, Concordia sold parts of its land on a hill to pay off debt. Thus the campus is wedged between two housing developments, Concordia East and Concordia West, located within the university’s gates.

Residents of Concordia East and West said the renovations would bring more people and special events, causing traffic, noise, lights and other issues.

Also, residents of the Turtle Rock community said the project would add traffic to an already congested area.

In an effort to find the middle ground, Concordia has eliminated some features, such as an aquatics center with an eight-lane Olympic pool and a three-story parking structure, from its original plan. The university will also limit the number of non-university events on campus.

In addition, Concordia committed to seek separate city approval for phases 3 and 4, to not add any traffic during the first two phases, to conduct an independent traffic count, fund necessary future traffic improvements and to limit the number of athletic lighting poles to 15. The university will also meet with Concordia East and West representatives to discuss construction management plans.

The whole project is expected to take 20 to 30 years to complete, Van Blarcom said.