LA HABRA HEIGHTS — Many townspeople here seem inclined to welcome the proposed construction of a championship golf course, country club and an exclusive 164-home development on the Hart Ranch as the most palatable plan they are likely to see for the tract, the largest piece of open land left in this hill community.
The master-planned project, which would spread across the 520-acre ranch in the city's northeast corner, represents a dramatic departure from the Heights' rough-edged traditions. But change seems inevitable for the property, the last of what remains of a 3,600-acre ranch originally owned by Edwin Hart, whose company developed the city nearly 70 years ago with citrus and avocado groves.
Issue on Ballot
"It's a shame to see it go, but none of us can afford to buy it and keep it that way," former City Councilman Charles Wolfarth said last week after developers explained their plans at a community meeting. "I would like to see it developed in a good and proper manner," Wolfarth continued, indicating his approval of the golf course and housing project.
Local voters will have a chance to express their opinions on the development in a special election Oct. 25, when they consider several ballot items, one of which will advise the City Council on whether construction grading standards should be relaxed for the project. The developer, Sequoia Real Estate Fund of Torrance, wants to do more extensive grading than would normally be permitted by city regulations designed to guard against scarring of the Heights' abundant hills.
In their presentation, which employed five video screens, an elaborate scale model, and dwelt on the design of the Par 71 golf course, developers assured the audience that they wanted to preserve as much of the tract's character as possible.
The one-acre residential lots, golf course and country club would cover about 370 acres, with the rest of the parcel devoted to roads and open space. Powder Canyon, an area of the ranch deemed ecologically significant by both Los Angeles County and city planners, would be left alone, with the possible addition of hiking and equestrian trails. Clumps of natural vegetation would punctuate the course, and one would provide a "wildlife corridor" to help the area's animals--which include deer and coyotes--cross the course.
While an estimated 5.5 million cubic yards of earth would be moved around to mold the golf course and make way for the roads and houses, Sequoia executives said it would all stay on the site. A number of excavations and fills, changing some elevations by 40 to 50 feet, would be made.
Because next month's ballot item on the grading question is only advisory, it will be up to the City Council to approve or reject the project. But Mayor Gene Beckman said he would take his cue from the ballot box. "If they vote 'no', it's down the tubes," Beckman remarked to a constituent after the meeting.
Although residents expressed concerns about the amount of grading, the destruction of existing views, the increased traffic on Skyline Drive and the amount of water that would be consumed by the golf course irrigation system, their reaction to the project was generally favorable. Some speakers were especially enthusiastic about the golf course, which would be the city's second.
"This is probably the nicest thing that could go up there," said Martin Tellkamp, who lives near the ranch.
A Sequoia executive said some of the project's 164 houses would be built by his company, others by whoever buys the lots, which will probably sell for more than $200,000 an acre.
The cost of the lots and the country club plans signal the changes that are creeping across La Habra Heights. With its one-acre minimum zoning, hilly terrain and ranch heritage, the Heights seem a pastoral retreat compared to the crowded suburbs that surround it. Increasingly, the well-heeled are moving in to take advantage of the peace and quiet, building expensive homes on parcels bought at prices that stun old-time residents.