In a rare display of support for a project that drew strong opposition for nearly 25 years, environmentalists Wednesday hailed the Irvine Co.'s latest plan to develop the biggest stretch of vacant coastal land in the county.
The Friends of the Irvine Coast, which once battled the Irvine Co. in court over its 1981 plan to build homes and office buildings on 9,400 acres between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, threw its support behind the company's revised proposal before the Board of Supervisors.
"The planning process was accessible to the Friends and to the other organizations (with similar interests)," the group's attorney, Terry Watt, told the supervisors.
The new plan for the Irvine Coast development represents "a balance of competing land uses," Watt said. The office buildings are gone and the remaining residences and four planned hotels are scaled down in height. In addition, the company's procedures for turning over the bulk of the property to the county for parks, trails and other open space uses has been "vastly simplified," she said.
County Report Cited
Watt said the contrasts between the 1981 plan, which was approved by supervisors, and the latest proposal were stark.
She pointed to a county staff report saying that: the amount of open space has been increased from 61% to 76%; traffic has been reduced and public access increased, and environmental concerns have been addressed.
The development is expected to benefit from the expected building of the state's first toll road in the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor. It would cross the canyons behind UC Irvine, from MacArthur Boulevard near Bonita Canyon Drive to the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 5) in San Juan Capistrano.
When built, Pelican Hills Road will connect the new turnpike with Pacific Coast Highway, through the middle of the new development.
The county Planning Commission approved the Irvine Co.'s new Irvine Coast plan in July. Tuesday's session before the supervisors was the first of two scheduled public hearings.
Monica Florian, Irvine Co. vice president, said the state Coastal Commission will consider the project. If the panel approves it, supervisors are expected to give final approval Dec. 2, the date of the second public hearing.
A representative of the Coastal Commission, which had objected to previous plans to develop the land, said the latest blueprints looked adequate.
Florian said if all goes well, construction could begin by the end of next year on 2,600 homes, four hotels with a total of 1,900 rooms and two 18-hole golf courses.
The company's first proposals for the land were submitted in 1964. Early plans called for up to 21,500 dwellings.
Supervisors approved one plan in 1976, but it was rejected by the Coastal Commission. Supervisors approved another plan in 1981, which was challenged in court.
After Donald Bren assumed control of the Irvine Co. in 1983, the plan was revised.
Fern Pirkle, president of Friends of the Irvine Coast, told supervisors that when the plan was approved in 1981 "we were not happy with that plan at all."
Opposed Early Plans
Pirkle's group also objected to the revised plan unveiled in 1986, but the group, the company and county Environmental Management Agency officials discussed possible improvements.
"We are very pleased that things have gone as well as they have over the last few months," Pirkle said. She said she was "encouraged by the very process that has taken place" to come up with a good plan.
Elisabeth Brown, president of the Laguna Greenbelt, one of several groups that joined the Friends of the Irvine Coast in a coalition to monitor changes in the Irvine Co. plan, said that "it was very heartening that everyone sat down together and worked out what was best for the coast."
Several Corona del Mar residents objected to what they predicted would be increased traffic in their neighborhoods when Pelican Hills Road is built, but the president of the Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce, Royal Radtke, said the new proposal is "an outstanding plan."
Times staff writer Jeffrey A. Perlman contributed to this article.