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Debate swirls about new Irvine condos

Photos by Mindy Schauer and Jeff Collins -- click to enlarge

There’s wide disagreement on how newly reopened Central Park West condo project in Irvine from developer Lennar Corp. will do.

  • Irvine-based housing consultant Walter Hahn think it’s “a disaster,” saying the market is still too depressed for to take it to market. “I think they’re wrong on the timing because the market isn’t back,” said “Job growth will be really slow over the next two to three years. Job growth drives everything. … I think it’ll be two years before you’ll see much of a resurrection of new home sales or even resales because of jobs.”
  • But another consultant, John Burns, also of Irvine, argued that the housing market is recovering, saying that Lennar will “hit the ball out of the park.” The question isn’t why Lennar is bringing Central Park West to market now, but why didn’t it act sooner, said Burns, one of many who advised Lennar on the project. “They’ve got tens of millions of dollars in the ground. They had to sell them. Opening now is a no-brainer,” Burns said. “It’s kind of a bigger story that they waited this long.”
  • Still, condo specialist Veronica Hicks of thinks CPW’s homeowner’s association dues and Mello Roos tax makes the units too pricy. She added that young families may shy away from CPW because the project is outside the coveted Irvine school district, falling instead in the Santa Ana distirct.

Meanwhile, close to 2,200 people showed up last month for Lennar’s “grand opening” of sales for the 496-condo project, located at Jamboree Road just off the 405 freeway, company officials said. More than 400 filled out registration cards.

The development includes two 14-story condo towers and five other low-rise condo buildings in a variety of “urban” designs, from brownstones to lofts.

Construction has been under way at the 42-acre site for at least three years, but Lennar abruptly took the homes off the market in November 2007 amid falling home prices to wait for the market to improve.

Lennar officials say that sales at CPW, as the project is known, are resuming because the market is showing signs of recovery.

But Hahn argues that the site – adjacent to a freeway and office buildings — is “not exactly a great location for residential property.” And, he added, “the low-rise condos are really ugly.” They either have a “cockamamie” design or “look like barracks,” he said.

The last strike against CPW is that large portions of the project — which ultimately will have 1,380 homes in eight separate sites — remain unbuilt, Hahn said. People will be reluctant to move somewhere that’s still a construction site.

“This particular project has been a disaster right from the beginning,” Hahn added. “They can overcome those negatives if they price (the homes) low enough. Way low.”

Hicks of CondosEtc believes the high-rise units also will have difficulty competing with distressed condo high-rises down the road, which sell for at least $100,000 less than Lennar is charging. “I think the location is fantastic,” Hicks said. But, she added, “there are some problems with that project, and I don’t know how they’re going to cure them.”

Burns disagreed. Their targeted buyers are affluent singles and couples, he said. The housing slump has hit bottom, and spring is the season when homebuying picks up. “I think they’ll hit the ball out of the park,” he said.

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