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New Irvine housing development backs away from the beige

Irvine homes

Irvine has a respected UC campus, a much-admired reputation as an extraordinarily safe place to live and -- in the words of residents and outsiders alike -- a deep love for cookie-cutter homes and stucco.

And beige. Lots of beige.

In a city-sponsored contest last spring to drum up a proper motto for the city, residents sounded off to the Orange County Register about the sameness of the place. Among their submissions: "Sixteen Zip Codes, Six Floor Plans." "Irvine: We Have 62 Different Words for Beige.” "Sorry, I Thought This Was My House.”

But now, according to the newspaper, the architecture and color pallete in one of America’s definitive master-planned communities is being upended.

Instead of the Mediterranean look that has dominated the city’s cul de sacs and precisely designed villages, the city council has approved plans for 5,000 homes that stray all over the architecture map, from Craftsman to Victorian and possibly with buckets of color to pick from.

The new community, to be built by FivePoint, will hug the retired El Toro Marine Base, which is slowly being transformed into a huge municipal expanse of open space known as the Great Park. The economy has slowed both the park and the residential development.

City officials in Irvine have generally bristled at the thought that their city is boring or bland, but Eric Tolles, the city’s director of community development, conceded that the architecture proposed by the project’s developer "is a departure from what we've seen in recent years."

Irvine's reputation for controlling everything from the color and style of homes to the number of ficus trees that can be planted in parkways has its positives, too, residents and officials agree.

Police told The Times recently that one reason the crime rate is so low in town is that banks and shops are not planted alongside freeways, thus discouraging would-be robbers who need a quick getaway. Walls are generally covered in handsome vines, making graffiti attacks rare. Even the cellphone towers blend nicely into the neighborhoods.

In 2003, Irvine officials  went about planning a possible urban core -- lofts, high-rises, hustle and bustle. But not everyone cheered the idea of straying from the city’s suburban roots.

"If you want a downtown experience you can move to San Francisco or downtown Los Angeles," said former Irvine Councilman Greg Smith. "The city of Irvine was originally conceived as a master-planned suburban community. People who live here have spent their hard-earned money to buy homes on that assumption .... They came here to escape the city."

One resident of Woodbridge, one of Irvine’s most desirable villages, said that when residents move in, it comes with the understanding that nobody’s going to get too crazy with their color choices.

"When you buy a house here, you know exactly what you're getting into," he said. "You have agreed. You're not going to have a neighbor who decides they're going to paint their house purple."

Maybe not anymore.


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-- Steve Marble 

Photo: Homes go up in Irvine back when beige still ruled. Credit: Mark Boster

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