A plan to build a 255-unit condominium complex for senior citizens on unincorporated land near Diamond Bar has been rejected unanimously by the county Regional Planning Commission, whose members expressed concern that the plan would produce "a radical change in the environment."
The commissioners said there were no assurances that the plan would benefit the county's elderly.
The project, proposed by the Anaheim-based firm of Arciero & Sons, was to be built in a forested canyon near the junction of the Orange and Pomona freeways. Residents say the canyon is frequented by deer, bobcats, horned owls and more than 30 other species of wildlife.
Frank Arciero Jr., a principal in the development firm, said Thursday that he would decide within a week whether to appeal the planning commission's decision to the County Board of Supervisors, which is the ultimate authority in county land-use decisions.
In voting against the plan, which would have required flattening two hills, Commissioner Clinton Ternstrom paraphrased the late essayist E. B. White, saying: "I'd have a lot more respect for the public if it didn't try to outwit nature, but stood back and tried to understand it. This project is just inviting problems."
The decision apparently scuttles the condominium plan by rejecting an application for a zone change without which the builders can not proceed. The present zoning designation of the 75-acre site permits construction of only 43 single-family homes.
Nearby residents charged that the plan would change their communities--wedged between Diamond Bar and Rowland Heights, but with a Walnut postal address--from rural to urban.
At the commission hearing Thursday, Arciero produced a squad of spokesmen for the plan, including Bob Mathias, gold medalist in the decathlon in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, who was involved in marketing the project and designing a recreation program for its occupants.
They argued that the housing needs of 1.7 million people over age 55 in Los Angeles County are being neglected.
"Active adults are pushed off to the side," said Robert Perryman, director of advertising for the plan. "They're forced to go to Phoenix or Tempe to find their life styles."
Mathias, president of Mathias Marketing, said the project had been planned with many amenities for "active adults," including walking trails, a clubhouse and exercise room, tennis courts and an artificial lake.
But critics, including the commission's staff planners, charged that it was just another condominium project, with no contractual assurances that its units would be sold to the elderly.
"We have no authority to enforce the 'senior citizens' designation," said commission Chairman Lee Strong.
About 30 members of the South Point Homeowners Assn., which led the opposition, attended the hearing. Their representatives said the condominium plan would turn quiet rural roads into busy thoroughfares, reverse the natural drainage in the canyon, diminish the value of their homes and destroy a scenic natural site.
The plan called for moving 1.45 million cubic yards of earth to grade the site.
"It took thousands of years for the canyon to form in this manner," said Donald Schad. "It could be destroyed in a few weeks by bulldozers."