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County Approves Mountain Housing Project : Development: But the supervisors delay a vote on a controversial plan to finance the developer's land donation.


A proposed housing development in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu, which has been the subject of heated negotiations for more than two years between the developer and neighbors, was approved Tuesday by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

The supervisors delayed their approval, however, of a financing scheme that has angered neighbors. Under the plan, the developer is seeking to be repaid through public tax funds for land he had previously agreed to donate for a park and a school site.

"That open space is being paid for by future property owners," said Supervisor Ed Edelman, who through redistricting now represents the area. "I don't think that was intended. . . . It was a direct gift."

The project calls for 550 upscale houses, stores and a church to be built on 1,250 acres of mountainous terrain in Calabasas southeast of the Ventura Freeway and Las Virgenes Road. It alarmed Calabasas residents when it was first proposed at nearly twice its current size. Developer Jim Baldwin further irked neighbors by fighting the movement to incorporate Calabasas.

But through scores of meetings with community members, school officials and county planners, an agreement was reached: The residents would withdraw their objections in return for Baldwin's donation of 640 acres to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and eight acres to the Las Virgenes Unified School District.

Then, a few weeks ago, the Baldwin Co. announced it intended to add the land donation to a tax assessment district being formed to finance community improvements in the area, such as upgrading a road, digging a flood-control basin and relocating a gas pipeline.

An estimated $35.2 million of the $88 million sought through the district would go to reimburse the developer for the 648 acres.

The opponents said their concerns go beyond a feeling that the developer has reneged on a promise to donate the land outright. They said they also fear that future homeowners, if they are saddled with the special tax, will be reluctant to vote to tax themselves for needed community improvements.

"I don't think it's a good precedent for the county to set," said Myra Turek, president of the Calabasas Park Homeowners Assn.

The supervisors also approved the tax assessment district, but delayed for a week a decision on whether money to pay for the land donation would be included.

Under the Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act, the county can sell tax-exempt bonds to pay for improvements that benefit the public and then tax future property owners to repay the debt.

Robert Burns, president of Baldwin Co., said the firm would reduce home prices to compensate for the special tax. County Public Works Director Thomas A. Tidemanson said future property owners inevitably pay the cost of donated land, if not through taxes then through higher sales prices.

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