Holmwood Canyon, an environmentally sensitive slope on the edge of the San Elijo Lagoon, will be bought by the nonprofit Trust for Public Lands and may eventually be made part of a regional park, San Diego County officials and the land's owner said Monday.
The purchase will scuttle a controversial 38-unit housing project planned for the 16-acre canyon. Nearby residents and county environmentalists have said the development would damage the Solana Beach lagoon, which is home to two endangered species of birds.
Donald Balsley, general partner of Lagoon Properties, owner of the land, said the partnership will receive $2 million from the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Lands, which buys property that environmentalists want to preserve, then resells it to public agencies. The county plans to buy the land from the trust with grant money from the state.
Balsley said Lagoon Properties will retain the right to build a single home in the canyon.
"It's all over and done with," Balsley said, adding that the Board of Supervisors must still ratify the agreement at its meeting next Tuesday. That approval is expected to be routine.
The agreement caps a long and sometimes bitter battle between Balsley and the Friends of Holmwood Canyon, a group formed to stop the development and encourage the county to buy the land.
In May, 1984, that group persuaded the Board of Supervisors to reject Lagoon Properties' application for a 44-unit project in the canyon. Seven months later, however, the board reversed itself and approved plans for a 38-unit development.
That approval was engineered by Supervisor Paul Eckert, who said at the time that he believed the move would prod negotiators to reach a deal on the land.
Balsley said Monday that the board's approval of his planned project was the key point in the long negotiations.
"That spurred everybody to think, 'You've got to do it (buy the land) now or you're never going to be able to,' " he said. "They'd been talking about it for 10 years. But that's normal. Everyone always waits until the last minute, until something is ready to be built."
Supervisor Susan Golding, who has worked since taking office in January to have the land purchased by the county, said in a prepared statement Monday that the canyon was "one of the most sensitive pieces of land" along the county's north coast.
"As part of the ecosystem of the San Elijo Lagoon, it protects the lagoon from upstream drainage and serves as a buffer between adjacent developed areas and the wetlands," she said.
Jack Peek, a Solana Beach architect who spearheaded the effort to stop the development, could not be reached for comment on the deal Monday.