Irvings Donald Bren with The Market Place (Irvine Company, Google Maps)

The Newport-Beach-based developer proposed building up to 1,400 residential units within The Market Place at 2961 El Camino Real in Tustin, the Orange County Business Journal reported.

The outdoor shopping center, which straddles Tustin and Irvine, has more than 120 stores, restaurants, cafes and theaters, and is the fifth-largest in the county.

The company got a nod from the City of Irvine last month that it could apply for a General Plan Amendment for 79 acres within the Irvine portion of the shopping center, east of Jamboree Road and north of the Santa Ana Freeway. The Tustin portion wasn’t included in the housing plan.

The Irvine Co. has not released plans for the site. High-density apartments, like those built by the firm at Irvine Spectrum Center and Fashion Island, appear likely, unidentified sources told the newspaper.

Given approval, the residential units added to The Market Place would follow thousands of others being built around Orange County shopping centers such as the Brea Mall, Outlets at Orange, the MainPlace Mall in Santa Ana, and Westminster Mall.

Similar housing plans have been filed for malls in Los Angeles.

The Irvine Co. housing proposal reflects the changing demands of younger residents, rather than an attempt to backfill any empty space at the center, according to documents filed with the city.

The project would result in a “residential lifestyle focused on sustainable frameworks including placing residents within walking distance to major employers and amenities like restaurants, shopping, and entertainment,” the filings said.

City backers say such a product is essential for Orange County’s fastest-growing city to keep its economic edge.

Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce members cite “housing near jobs” as the No. 1 priority to attracting and retaining top-tier talent, said Brian Starr, its president and CEO. This is especially true for recent graduates entering the workforce.

The Irvine Co. proposal is very much in the early stages. Any public hearing for the project likely wouldn’t be held until mid-2023, city filings say, and may depend on an environmental review

The Market Place, which opened in 1988, brought in nearly $500 million in taxable sales for the 12 months ended June 30, according to Business Journal data, and includes one of the nation’s first Amazon Fresh grocery stores. It’s Irvine Co.’s second-largest center by taxable sales behind Fashion Island.

[Orange County Business Journal] – Dana Bartholomew