The county Regional Planning Commission has tentatively approved a major housing project in the Puente Hills east of La Habra Heights by adopting a series of zoning changes that will allow smaller lots in the undeveloped rural area.
Opponents of the 572-acre project had hoped to persuade the commission not to change the five-acre lot minimum on the slopes and ridges east of Fullerton Road. But the five-member commission voted unanimously to amend local zoning laws and permit Shea Homes to build houses on lots ranging from one-eighth of an acre to one-half acre in the unincorporated territory.
The exact number of houses and lot sizes will not be determined until the commission approves the tentative tract map sometime in the next two months.
Several commission members, including Chairman Lee Strong, have said they will not approve the tract map or any of the necessary building permits until the county and Shea Homes have reached an agreement on the realignment and widening of Fullerton Road. Shea Homes has agreed to reroute the road through its project, but company officials told the commission on Monday that no deal has been reached on who would pay for extension of the road from the southern boundary of the Shea project to La Habra Heights.
Shea Homes' latest proposal is to build between 700 and 750 homes, most of them clustered along the ridge line overlooking Rowland Heights.
Shopping Center Rejected
As part of the project, Shea Homes also wanted a 15-acre shopping center on the property's northwest corner along Fullerton Road near the Rowland Heights Water Co. storage tanks. But the commissioners, citing strong local opposition to the need and appropriateness of the center, rejected it. Instead, Shea Homes said it will build 40 to 45 single-family homes on the location as well as set aside about 16 acres for a park and recreation area with baseball and soccer fields.
Opposition to the development, first proposed in 1981 when Shea Homes obtained an option from Shell Oil Co. to purchase the land, has come primarily from Rowland Heights residents. They fear that building on the ridge line in sight of those living in the lowlands will spoil the area's country character.
Will Avoid Edge of Ridges
In response to those concerns, Shea Homes officials told the commission they will build the houses farther from the edge of the ridges and, where necessary, erect berms to help screen the structures from those down below. They also said they are increasing the lot sizes to one-half acre in the area closest to La Habra Heights to make it more compatible with that city's building practices. La Habra Heights has a minimum one-acre lot requirement and city officials expressed concern about the effect of development with smaller lots so close.
Opponents of the project said they were encouraged by changes in lot sizes and Shea Homes' willingness to pull back from ridge line building.
"We've known for a while that something was going to be built up there, and today the commission confirmed that," said Dean Anderson, a member of the Rowland Heights Coordinating Council. "But we still have a chance to shape the nature of that development. . . ."
One reason Anderson and others have suspected the development would ultimately win approval is Fullerton Road.
County officials, including Supervisor Pete Schabarum, whose 1st District includes the Puente Hills, have tied approval of the housing project to a commitment from Shea Homes to help realign and widen Fullerton Road, one of several congested, two-lane roads crossing the hills. A meeting between the county and the developer on the road issue is set for Friday.
"This project will not go much further until the road issue is resolved," commission Chairman Strong said.
If the commission again votes in favor of the project, it then will go to the Board of Supervisors for final approval. No date has been set for another commission hearing on the development.