SANTA ANA — Preliminary approval from the Orange County Planning Commission for a 299-unit housing development in Trabuco Canyon is expected today, despite warnings from opponents that a monastery will demand the return of a portion of O'Neill Regional Park if the project is sanctioned.
The planning agency postponed approval of the proposal earlier this month to give the property owners and representatives of nearby St. Michael's Abbey and Ramakrishna Monastery time to work out a compromise on view issues.
However, lawyers for both religious groups complained to commission officials last week that the developers ignored requests for meetings.
Pike Oliver, a consultant who represents the developer, Aradi Inc., acknowledged that there had not been any meetings but said that "we are committed to working with them on the view problems." He added that there had been "a lot of previous discussions on this stuff."
At least three of the five commissioners spoke in favor of the plan at the last meeting on July 8. Plans call for the grading of 9 million cubic yards of earth over 13 months to prepare the site for construction.
Lawyers for St. Michael's Abbey argued that the grading would undermine the stability of the abbey, which includes numerous buildings and a school. Officials from the Ramakrishna Monastery said that county approval of developing the 222-acre area would violate a 1974 agreement.
Under the agreement, the monastery gave Orange County 240 acres of open land, which make up the northern portion of O'Neill Regional Park. An attorney for the monastery said the agreement prohibited the county from grading or defacing properties that border the deeded land. Several representatives of the monastery have warned that they will sue to recover the property and bottle up the development in court.
The nearly 20-year-old project began as a proposal to put 705 mobile homes on the site, a slide-prone area near Cook's Corner, east of El Toro Road. Aradi acquired the property and sought permission to build more than 318 houses. However, an alternative plan worked out by the county planning staff limited construction to 299 homes.
The commission adopted the alternative plan at its previous meeting.
Abbey and monastery officials lobbied for a scaled-back proposal that limited development to 100 houses on 30 acres. This plan was also preferred by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game and the Foothill/Trabuco Specific Plan Review Board, a citizens' advisory group formed to help the county develop the area.