After a skirmish between developers and rural canyon residents, the Orange County Planning Commission indicated Tuesday night that it will vote to allow construction of an additional 2,500 homes in the southeastern part of the county.
At its third set of public hearings on four proposed developments in the canyons of southeastern Orange County, the commission took straw votes favoring density increases and zoning changes that would allow additional units for three of the four developers.
The fourth developer, Jack Mullan, decided Monday night to withdraw his 483-home Santiago Ranch proposal. He intends to submit a new plan with a better balance of residential and commercial uses next year, county planner Bryan Speegle said.
Staff Urged Denials
County staff members had recommended that the commission deny the requested increases or approve smaller increases for all four of the projects. Increased traffic and overly crowded neighborhoods that would be incompatible with the sparsely populated canyons were the planners' main reasons for recommending the denials, Speegle said.
"This was a bulldozer job," Trabuco Canyon resident Bruce Conn, who is president of the Rural Canyons Conservation Fund, said. "This demonstrates that they (the Planning Commission) don't give a damn about us. Our community is 150 years old, yet they make absolutely no effort to preserve it."
The commission is to vote officially next week on the three development projects for which additional units are expected to be approved. Tuesday's straw votes were taken so that county staff could draw up correctly worded resolutions and legal documents for next week's votes, Speegle said.
Speegle, advance planning manager for the county's Environmental Management Agency, said the chances of next week's votes coming out the same as the straw votes "are about 80%."
The commission voted 3 to 2 to give the Baldwin Co. permission to build 2,200 homes at its Portola Hills project. The company currently has approval for 1,481 units. At earlier hearings, Baldwin executives had asked for 3,556 units, but that proposal met with stiff opposition.
Tuesday night the company was asking for 2,493 units. One commissioner, Earl Wooden, said he would go along with that but agreed to the staff's recommended compromise of 2,220 when Commissioners C. Douglas Leavenworth and H.G. Osborne said they would go no higher than that.
Commissioners Thomas Moody and Alvin Coen opposed the project.
"Of all the projects we've heard today, this one deserved denial," Moody, an appointee of Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, said. "It's a typical cut-and-fill suburban project in the middle of a rural area."
The commissioners aligned themselves similarly on votes on the William Lyon Co's. proposed Robinson Ranch project and the Dove Canyon Development Corp's. proposed development near Coto de Caza.
The Dove Canyon development, which met with less opposition from residents, was given tentative approval for 1,292 units. The developers had asked for 1,500 units. County staff had recommended that only 861 be approved.
The Lyon Co's. request to build 1,850 homes appeared to be dead at one point, when a straw vote failed to generate the necessary support and the commissioners recessed in preparation for the next item. The commission staff had recommended no increase over the already-approved 882 units for the Robinson Ranch project.
But after the break, Lyon Co. project manager Bill Soto asked the commission to consider a revised proposal for 1,400 units. Wooden, Leavenworth and Osborne said they would approve it.
Marcia Rudolph, president of a group of homeowners associations in the Saddleback Valley, told the commissioners that Soto's revised proposal was an example of "instant planning."
"What's happening tonight has really got me steamed," Rudolph said. "They're proposing projects when they don't have all their ducks in a row. . . . Things are slipping through the cracks."