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The Block parking predicament

The owner of The Block, notorious among O.C. malls for its lack of spaces, seeks to add 1,722 spots before a housing complex goes in.

The Orange County Register

CRUNCH: "When you come early, you have parking, When you come late, it's really hard," said Le Vuong of Anaheim.

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ORANGE  On a weekend night, cars circle around the parking lot at The Block like sharks surrounding their prey.

They are hunting for a parking spot.

The parking crunch is at the heart of a discussion over a revised plan for the next phase of development at the entertainment and shopping complex, which by most accounts lacks as many as 800 spaces during peak hours.

Le Vuong of Anaheim recalls leaving The Block once after failing to find a spot after 15 minutes of driving.

"When you come early, you have parking, When you come late, it's really hard," said Vuong, 47, after shopping for her two children.

As part of its latest plan, the Mills Corp. has proposed beefing up a planned parking structure to 1,722 spots to get more spaces available to the public before it adds a housing complex to the property.

The company already has approval to build 500 apartments, two hotels, 120,000 square feet of retail space and more parking at The Block, but it is seeking to revamp its proposal to include 403 condos instead of the rentals and to move some of the parking.

Other malls have also grappled with parking, including the Irvine Spectrum, which had a reputation as a tough place for shoppers to find a free space. After the center added a Nordstrom, about 30 other stores and two new parking structures a month ago, stores experienced "well over" a double-digit increase in traffic, said Nina Robinson, vice president for marketing of retail properties at the Irvine Co.

TARGETing adults

The company hopes to bring housing to The Block to bring more adults to the area, now a popular hangout with teens, and create a mixed-use style development where residents can live, work and socialize in the same area.

The development would join several residential complexes under way on Orange's west side and would be blocks from Anaheim's Platinum Triangle.

The revised proposal comes as work continues on the ramps near The City Drive for the Garden Grove (22) freeway, which is expected to improve access to the mall.

The ramps are due to be completed early next year.

The Block has also been working to boost security at the mall. In 2004, crimes such as assault and car theft fell 4.8percent compared with a year earlier.

Even so, David Franco, an Anaheim resident who works near the mall, wasn't sure people would want to live there.

"What kind of a view are you going to have  your shopping mall out your window or Ameriquest out your other window," he said.

Enough spaces?

At a recent Planning Commission meeting, Mills Senior Vice President Elizabeth Link said she expected an agreement with nearby Equity Office Properties to use 700 spaces at night and on weekends would also help ease the shortage. The Mills Corp. would not comment for this story.

Orange planning commissioners have raised questions about whether shifting 500 spots to the structure  which would be built in 2006  from decks planned for later would quench the thirst for parking at The Block, home to one of AMC's top five theatres.

"Now is the time to fix the parking deficit at the mall because it's the cheapest time to do it," said Commissioner Denis Bilodeau, who also wants the company to offer more on-site affordable housing.

"You get one more deck or two more decks on the parking structure and your problem is solved."

Under the proposal, the Mills Corp. would need to present a new parking plan before building the condos.

Staff writer Tiffany Montgomery contributed to this report. CONTACT US: (714) 704-3777 or