SANTA ANA — A judge ordered Friday that a controversial hilltop development plan for a Laguna Niguel bluff be reworked to fall in line with local and state coastal guidelines, a decision foes of the project heralded as a major victory.
Orange County Superior Court William F. McDonald ruled that the 22-home project planned by developer Jack Binion would have to be reworked and resubmitted to him by Aug. 23.
The decision came in a civil case pitting a civic group against Binion and Laguna Niguel, which approved the project. While the city manager said the court order was "not a victory for us, but not a loss either," a spokesman for the civic group predicted the deadline would be impossible to meet.
"It would take a year at least to unravel the whole thing and fix it up," said Michael Beanan, vice president of the South Laguna Civic Assn. "We're hoping this means a full project redesign. We're not against the project; we just want something proper."
But City Manager Tim Casey said the ruling was a matter of fine-tuning the project to comply with local and state regulations for coastal development.
"The judge did not overturn or invalidate the city's approval," Casey said. He said the judge gave the project "a clean bill of health" on many key issues and the city was viewing the ruling as "giving us a fix-it ticket."
Casey said the city could proceed with review of a revised development plan, but he said it was unlikely that the project would be able to complete California Coastal Commission review by Aug. 23.
The Binion Estates project, planned for a bluff near the Monarch Point gated community, has been the subject of an often acrimonious debate since Binion proposed the ocean-view custom homes in 1990.
Community activists have argued that the project would encroach on environmentally fragile land and create flooding and mudslide dangers.
Attorneys for Binion, a Las Vegas casino owner, could not be reached Friday for comment.