Sunny Hills Estates Neighborhood – Fullerton, California

The Sunny Hills area of Fullerton, California has many different neighborhoods and housing tracts, probably none more notable than the area known as the Sunny Hills Estates neighborhood. Many think of this neighborhood exclusively when using the term Sunny Hills in conversation. The area known as the Estates is one of the oldest in the northwest part of Fullerton and probably the most coveted. Known for its magnificent tree lined streets, large lots, and attractive low-slung ranch style homes, Sunny Hills Estates is the showplace for the entire Sunny Hills area. This neighborhood review will give readers a taste for what the area has to offer potential home buyers. If readers decide that neighborhood in Sunny Hills Estates is something they would like to pursue, the Tools section below will enable them to buy, sell, or just track homes for sale in the Estate at Sunny Hills better than anybody else.

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History of Sunny Hills Estates

Prior to its modern development, a group of Native American Indians known as Gabrielinos occupied the area known as Sunny Hills Estates over a thousand years ago. Later, the site is also believed to have been part of the Bastanchury and possibly Murphy ranches, both of which were devoted to growing citrus fruits as evidenced by a local rail line that ran through the area, connecting citrus facilities from Brea to Buena Park.

The land that became Sunny Hills Estates was considered at one time by the Disney company as the site for modern day Disneyland. Rumor is that the property was owned by the Chapman family at the time and they were reluctant to sell because they wanted the area to remain residential in nature.

In 1948, the Estates, known at the time as Sunny Hills Ranch and owned by Sunny Hills Ranch Inc., were granted to three individuals (most likely owners of the company) for the massive sum of $10.00. In the grant deed, these three individuals were given exclusive and full rights to the property except that:

  1. Certain strips of land were conveyed to Pacific Electric Railway Co.
  2. Water pipe lines were conveyed to Sunny Hills Mutual Water Co.
  3. Certain easements were set aside for road and bridle trails
  4. Land was only to be used for residential, agricultural, and horticultural uses
  5. In effect until 6/1/69, homes were not to be more than two stories (excluding basements)
  6. Wetheren Co, Inc was given architectural control over the all the homes on the property. These architectural controls were later transferred to and enforced by the North Fullerton Homeowners Association in 1963.
  7. Buildings were not to be less than 1,200 sq ft (later amended to 1,800 sq ft of ground floor space) and no more than 2 guest houses, none of which less than 1,000 sq ft, were allowed. Minimum lot sizes were set at 20,000 sq ft as well.
  8. Other restriction included garage placement, generous setbacks, etc were also put into place to protect the aesthetic qualities of the area.

And so, the area known now as Sunny Hills Estates was sub-divided and sold to individual developers. Several small neighborhoods adjoining the Estates, which were later developed, were not subject to the deed restrictions. When homes were built in the Estates, in order to reach the surrounding shops, the residents needed to drive over about one hundred yards of empty land, which eventually became badly rutted. The Estates then saw the evolution of Laguna Rd, a street which the City Planning Department boasted had been laid out without a straight section, as befitted an exclusive residential street.

About 1965, the local citrus rail line was abandoned and the city constructed a bridal trail which now runs from Imperial Highway all the way to the Courthouse. The Fullerton Recreational Riders Group worked tirelessly with the City on this trail as well as many other projects including the horse facility at Lakeview/Euclid. Today, residents have them to thank for the abundance of mountain bike, jogging, and horse trails that traverse the Sunny Hills Estates area.

Zoning for the entire area was R-1 (residential single family homes) so residents were surprised when, in the early 1960’s, the property around the intersection of Harbor and Bastanchury was rezoned by the city. Residents were advised by the City planners that R-1 was a holding zone, given the entire area after its conversion from agricultural usage, and the City had the right to change the zoning to “the highest and best use of the land.” In response to this, the residents formed the North Fullerton Homeowners Association (NFHOA) to represent their interests. The first property to come up for rezoning was a large plot west of Laguna Road and north of Bastanchury. The NFHOA could not stop the development, but in the proceedings its members received a valuable education. They learned that individual members of the Planning Commission and City Council needed to share the NFHOA view. Their approach on all future occasions became one of education and convincing, and they were then always able to effect changes to developer’s plans so as to preserve the character of the neighborhood.

The next proposed rezoning was of the plot of land bounded by Laguna, Harbor, and Bastanchury. The proposal was for a single large commercial development with a C-2 zoning. The developer was adamant in the hearings but NFHOA had convinced many of the members of the Planning Commission and the City Council that Laguna Road was the entry to one of the city’s best residential areas and deserved to be protected from commercial development. Eventually the City Council asked the developer and the NFHOA to meet and attempt to resolve their differences. The meetings were successful and resulted in office-professional zoning along Laguna Road.

Another contentious zoning battle took place over the site now occupied by Downey Savings. The bank proposed a multi-story building with offices to be rented to others businesses in the upper floors. The building exterior was to be gray concrete and a multi-story parking structure was to be built right at the corner. The NFHOA planned a presentation for the hearings and emphasized the potential traffic gridlock and the need to maintain a non-commercial character to the entrance of the Estates. Part of the presentation was an excellent slide show of views looking up Laguna Road. The residents convinced the City and the bank was told to scale down the project and improve its appearance, which they did.

The latest zoning battle concerned the land bordered by Laguna, Domingo, and the bridle trail (currently N. Morelia Ave). In the early nineties, the owners proposed a condominium development with a clubhouse and swimming pool at the north end. The City Planning Department was convinced that the site was unsuitable for single family residences. The condo project could have gotten approved if not for the strong opposition of the residents to the clubhouse and pool area. In the late nineties, the owners proposed a new idea for the land with a development of duplex houses. This time the residents were determined to maintain the R-1 zoning and the project was defeated. The owners returned with a proposal for a group of large single family homes and they were approved and built.

The Sunny Hills Estates areas was, and still is, known as one of the most affluent areas in Orange County. Nicknamed “Pill Hill” by the locals in reference to the abundance of doctor residents, the Estates were also home to many high ranking corporate executives, scientists, and engineers from nearby companies like Hughes, Hunts Food Products, and Autonetics. Two schools, Sunny Hills High School and Laguna Road Elementary, were built in the early 1960’s to teach the residents children and are now internationally recognized as top educators.

Modern day controversial topics to Sunny Hills Estate homeowners include “mansionization” which is loosely described as the demolition of these modest ranch style homes in favor of large tuscan, tudor, and mediteranian style homes. Opponents of the building of these large homes proclaim that it is destroying the character and look of the neighborhood. Owners and builders of these homes hold the position that the property is theirs to do with as they please as long as they aren’t violating any legal restrictions. Clearly, this is a controversy that will be seeing more attention at city hall in the near future.

Source: John McElligot, a resident of Sunny Hills from 1961 to 2004. Member of the North Fullerton Homeowners Association during that time and President circa 1975-2000.

Sunny Hills Estates Area Home Models

The majority of the homes in Sunny Hills Estates could be described architecturally as California Ranch Style Homes. They are a very popular style well known for their pitched gables, wood shake roofs, low slung profile, and large single story floor plans.

The main tract in the Estates was built by multiple builder/developers from 1955 through 1965, finished up around the street currently known as Paloma. Around the same time, the nearby Sunny Ranch development was constructed from 1956 through 1960. Towards the end of the building of Sunny Hills Estates, the surrounding small tracts on the streets near Coronado were started as well as the western border street known as Verona. This was followed shortly thereafter by the planned urban development of Lakeview Terrace, and finally the small cul-de-sacs of Fiesta and Pinata.

TWithin the Estates themselves and because of their custom nature, there are almost too many models of homes to demonstrate. The following chart represents the range of homes found in Sunny Hills Estates, most of which are available in a single story. The most popular sizes will be numbers 2,3, and 4.

Model Bed Bath Stories Bldg. Sq. Ft. Insider Tips
1 3 2 tri level 1,600-2,400 *Contact us for details
2 3 2.5 1 1,700-3,000
3 4 2.5-5.5 1 2,000-6,000
4 5 2-6 1-2 2,300-6,000
5 6 3.5-5 1-2 3,400-6,228
6 7 4-4.5 1-2 3,600-3,800

Special Features

Laguna Lake Park

The formerly dilapidated body of water known as Laguna Lake was originally part of the irrigation system for the citrus groves of the Bastanchury Ranch. Recently, the lake underwent a $2.25 million dollar renovation project and the results have been very popular. Visitors will notice a much cleaner lake with improved recreational facilities and regular stockings of fish open to all of the angling public. Located right in the middle of the Estates, the park is now a charming focal point for the neighborhood instead of a pesky eyesore.

Hillside Terrain

The Sunny Hills Estates neighborhood is beautifully carved into a rolling hillside. This results in many things like view property and undulating topography, all of which add to the areas character and value. While walking the tree lined rolling streets is a breathtaking adventure, it should be noted that this undulation in terrain may pose an issue for some walkers. The upside is that it will most definitely result in a good workout! Despite the rolling streetscapes, the houses themselves are all on fairly flat lots. Even though the lots are relatively flat and breathtakingly beautiful, there is a downside associated with most types of hillside neighborhood. Dangers from landslide or mudslide are threats worth investigating on any property built into, below, or on top of a hillside. These dangers can be assessed by a qualified professional. Given the beauty of this general area, this is a risk many prospective homeowners are willing to take.

Mature Trees

Sunny Hills Estates is often defined by the mature canopy of trees that flank its rolling streetscape. This attractive canopy provides an ambiance that is often hard to find in the Orange County areas. Residents may find that some of the trees will create a mild mess that will require a little raking on behalf of the homeowners. In an era of master planned communities and almost non-existent foliage, many will see this minor inconvenience as a small price to pay for a serene atmosphere.

Horse Stables & Riding Rink

In addition to the lake itself, Laguna Lake Park is also the site of the local Equestrian Center and the proud home of the Fullerton Recreation Riders. The Equestrian center itself has spectator seating, riding rings, and show rings. Along the southern border of the Sunny Estates there is a commercial horse stable known as V&H Stables. Horse owning readers are urged to contact them regarding stable availability.

Horse Property

Horse owners thinking of moving to Sunny Hills will be pleased to find that many of the homes have lots that can physically and legally accommodate horses. Owners of horses know that this is a luxury that can ultimately be more convenient and sometimes more cost effective than keeping horses off site. As such, horse property in the Sunny Hills area sells at a premium. Buyers are urged to check with the city for restrictions relating to horses on any home they purchase.

Large Lots

As referenced in the history of the Estates at Sunny Hills, the group of homes was blessed with restriction as to minimum lot sizes of around 20,000 sqft. Large lots give homebuyers many opportunities for future home expansion, additional backyard features, as well as a general feeling of spacious seclusion. This is one neighborhood where owners will absolutely not be able to reach out of their window and touch their neighbors house.

Garages and Driveways

One of the most unique features of the neighborhood is the presence of restriction regarding garages. The original CC&R’s, or rules applied to homeowners in an area, mandated that garages doors may not face the street. This was done in an effort to increase the desirability of the streetscape. Most of the garages are at least two cars but there are three and four car garages that have been built in the neighborhood. In addition to the garages, the full-size, and often circular driveways will accommodate additional cars as well. This is significant because the city of Fullerton does not allow overnight street parking in the area so for a buyer with numerous vehicles, this will be a definite advantage.

Cul–de–sacs

A cul–de–sac is a name for a street that is significantly wider than the surrounding streets, usually rounded in shape, and has zero through traffic except from residents who live on the street. A major advantage to homebuyers is that cul-de-sac homes can make very good places for children to play with less of a threat from traffic. The downside of cul–de–sac homes is that some homes can be less than ideal according to the laws of feng shui, at least according to the people we’ve interviewed. Sunny Hills Estates contains numerous large and small cul–de–sacs along with the normal mix of straighter residential streets.

Walking Distance to Area Schools

While the respective school district will be covered in the next section, it is worth noting that parents of children living in Sunny Hills Estates will be walking distance to elementary and possibly junior high and high school.

Area Fundamentals

Schools

Simply put, Sunny Hills Estates feeds some of the best schools in the nation. If one is truly looking for an exceptional education for their children, this school district is about as good as it gets. As of this time, the area feeds into the nationally acclaimed Sunny Hills High School as well as Parks Junior High and Laguna Road Elementary. For more info on each of the respective schools, please contact the districts using the links at the bottom of the page.

Views

What would one of the most affluent neighborhoods in a city be without view property? Surely Sunny Hills Estates is no stranger to this concept! Situated on top of one of the highest inhabitable peaks in Orange County, Sunny Hills Estates has views ranging from city lights to ocean view on a clear day. It is more common for homes along the outside of perimeter streets, as well as those atop the interior peaks, to have the best views. Of course, serious homebuyers are accustomed to paying a premium for these lots as well.

Quiet Area

Sunny Hills Estates may just be one of the quietest neighborhoods in the area with regards to city and traffic noise. All of this contributes to a general feeling of serenity that provides a fantastic venue for escaping the stress of the workday. This feeling can be created without feeling totally isolated since Sunny Hills Estates is still close to many local entertainment venues.

There is another matter with regards to noise in the area that is worth noting. The railroad that runs the southern and eastern borders of Sunny Hills Estates is active but does not see much rail traffic. Homebuyers are advised to investigate the possibility of disturbance for themselves, however, we would like to advise them to bring a comfortable chair because it may take a few days for the next train to come! Regardless of the daily hustle involved in ones life, most will appreciate the peace and quiet that the Estates neighborhood provides.

Expert Insider Information

North Fullerton

In response to a sudden zoning change by the City in the early 1960’s, Sunny Hills Estates residents formed a homeowners association known as the North Fullerton Homeowners Association. The HOA did not have mandatory dues, only voluntary, and is currently inactive.

Sunrise Senior Living Facility

Directly adjacent to the western border of the Estates, on a strip of land that has been used for mainly agricultural purposes (and once rumored as a site for an Orange County jail), a new Senior Living facility has been constructed to provide independent and assisted living services to its customers. As with previous plans for development, the construction of this new facility was not without its fair share of opposition from local residents. You can learn more about the services provided by this retirement community by checking out the website for Sunrise Senior Living in Fullerton.

West Coyote Hills Project

One of the biggest draws of the Sunny Hills area is its close proximity to nature and hillsides. Currently a developer by the name of Pacific Coast Homes has plans to develop a large portion of land surrounding the area into what they are terming a “low density community” called West Coyote Hills.” In the past, the land has been used by Chevron, known as the Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve and was not open to the public. There is a group known as the Friends of Coyote Hills that opposes the development claiming that this area needs to remain a nature preserve in order to not destroy one of North Orange County’s last natural habitats.

Pacific Coast Homes offers interesting but controversial arguments that the plan for the project will be sensitive to the surrounding terrain and do a good job blending public use and nature preservation to land that is not currently available for public use. Check the above links to find out more about both sides of this sensitive issue as well as maps of the proposed project. One can also visit the Fullerton City Council to find the latest developments.

Our feeling is that while the outcome is not certain, this looks like a project that will most likely be carried out to some degree or extent. When it will happen or what the impact will be is a story that remains to be told. Obviously, we are hopeful that whatever they decide will increase the value of the area and make the Sunny Hills area an even more desirable community to live. We encourage potential home buyers to sample for themselves the charm of this unique part of Orange County and decide for themselves how the proposed project will influence the area.

Top of the World

Running the border of the proposed West Coyote Hills Project is an area with a lot of local folklore. The Top of the World is just a recreational trail cut into the edge of the undeveloped hillside but the area offers much more than that in the way of stories. The views, either during the day or at night, are dramatically panoramic and stretch out over much of Orange and Los Angels Counties. On a clear day, it’s easy to make out Catalina Island and almost any night the twinkling of city lights has lend itself to the backdrop of more than one romantic encounter. Part of the charm is the contrast between the completely undeveloped (and inaccessible) hillsides on one side and the vast expanse of human progress and development on the other. Whether one is an outdoor enthusiast or not, most will agree that Top of The World is a desirable feature for Sunny Hills neighborhood.

Jacaranda Senior Apartments

The former site of the once thriving Sunny Hills Racquet Club is being redeveloped by the Morgan Group, a luxury apartment developer, into a 131 unit senior apartment community on the west side of the Sunny Hills Estates neighborhood. Many residents of the community are not excited about the transformation but the city has sided with the developer’s argument that this senior community will be the highest and best use for the property. As with the West Coyote Hills Project, we hope to see the end result bring additional value to the community and its residents. We again encourage potential home buyers to sample the area decide for themselves how the proposed project will influence the area.

Fullerton Loop

Outdoor recreation has a good home and strong following in the Sunny Hills area. The 12 mile long Fullerton Loop Riding Trail is an extension of this as well as natural terrain features and city foresight. The Fullerton Loop is a loose term for the connecting of many paths and trails to form one continuous riding trail for outdoor enthusiasts. Horseback riding, hiking, walking, jogging, running, and mountain biking are all activities allowed on the trails. Motorized vehicles are prohibited from using the trails of the Fullerton Loop.

Coyotes

With the presence of undeveloped nature areas and rugged hillside expanses, homeowners in the area need to be aware of the presence of coyotes. Small pets should be well protected in order to avoid being harmed by the native animals. It is not uncommon for a Sunny Hills Estates homeowner to be taking an early evening walk and stumble upon a wild coyote in the street. While they have not been known to attack the locals, residents should use caution and not provoke the animals when walking alone or at night. Coyotes and other native wildlife are a unique feature of the area and part of its natural attraction to home buyers.

A Note from Your Local neighborhood Professional

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While these tools, articles, and guides about buying a home in Sunny Hills Estates will be extremely helpful, we would like to note that they are no substitute for our own personal insight and attention. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions, comments, concerns, or ideas regarding the Sunny Hills neighborhood market.