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LAGUNA NIGUEL : Binion Land Is Part of Proposed Initiative

April 27, 1993|GEOFF BOUCHER

While attorneys continue negotiations over landowner Jack B. Binion's plan to develop valuable ridgeline property, environmentalists are pushing to qualify the parcel for protected status.

Binion, a Las Vegas casino owner, has a plan to build 32 homes on his 22 acres near Badlands Park overlooking South Laguna Beach.

But his efforts have been stalled by acrimonious dealings with city officials, which have led to two lawsuits.

While lawyers for the Nevada businessman and the city have met during the past two months in hopes of settling the matter out of court, the South Laguna Open Space Committee has succeeded in placing the Binion property on a list of sensitive areas being considered for a $1.9-billion statewide bond initiative.

If that initiative lands on the November, 1994, ballot and is approved by the state's voters, it would grant $12 million to the California Coastal Conservancy to attempt to buy about 100 acres of the ridgeline, including the Binion property, and merge them with nearby Aliso and Wood Canyons Regional Park.

Binion's property is one of eight privately owned, undeveloped parcels within the targeted area and is the only one being considered for development.

"The clock is really ticking," said Mary Douglas, a South Laguna Beach resident and organizer of the ridgeline preservation. "The city has to approve the project. But their main objective at this point, I think, is to stay out of court. We're really concerned Binion might push the plan through. And if the land is graded, it's over for us," Douglas said.

The presence of rare and endangered plant life, including the scarce Southern maritime chaparral, spurred the placement of the property on the sensitive land list compiled by the Planning and Conservation League, the initiative's sponsor. That plant life would be destroyed by the grading necessary to make way for construction, Douglas said.

Laguna Niguel City Manager Tim Casey said city staff members have met with Binion's representatives about half a dozen times in the past two months to discuss the differences that led to the city's refusal of the project and Binion's two lawsuits against the city.

A meeting last week ended with the Binion contingent agreeing to return in a month with revised plans.

The initial project proposal was denied for an array of reasons, chief among them the need to remove a massive amount of earth to flatten the area.

Casey said approval of the project would only be granted if there were "wholesale revisions" to the plans.

Still, Casey said, it is doubtful those revisions would delay the project until the November, 1994, election.

He also said questions remain about the bond-sponsored money being enough to persuade Binion to sell the land to the California Coastal Conservancy.

Binion declined comment Monday.

While questions of time and money remain for the environmentalists hoping to see the ridge remain open space, a campaign has been launched to gather signatures to place the initiative on the ballot.

Statewide, 675,000 signatures are needed to meet the requirement, a number that should be attained by mid-May, said Jill Shirley, research director for Planning and Conservation League.

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