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Resort Plans Hit Snag in Laguna Beach, Again

Development: Foes of Treasure Island idea are forcing a vote by residents. Firm vows to give up if proposal doesn't pass as is.


After several years of wrangling among the property owner, the city and its residents, plans to redevelop the Treasure Island mobile home park into a luxury resort have hit another delay: Opponents have gathered enough signatures on a petition to force a public vote.

The Laguna Beach City Council, which backs the high-priced hotel proposal, agreed Tuesday to set an April 27 date for the referendum. But the developer vows to withdraw from the coastal community if the public doesn't endorse the current project.

"We're not going to start all over again," said Jack Cuneo, a general partner of Treasure Island Associates, which is owned by the New York investment firm Merrill Lynch. "We don't have the stomach to go through all that."

For nearly two years, city officials have lobbied the community to support the plan, which consists of a 275-room hotel and 18 homes on estate-sized lots. To get the California Coastal Commission's OK, the project would include such public amenities as a bluff-top park, beach access, a health spa, and banquet and conference rooms.

But environmentalists in Laguna Beach have long said that development would crowd the 30-acre property and that several homes should be eliminated from the plan. Talks between Cuneo and the opponents have been going on for months, but they cannot seem to agree, both sides said.

"I'd like to see this project modified," said Ann Christoph, a former mayor who is a leader in the referendum effort. "I have no problem with this developer, except that he won't budge."

Cuneo said he met with Christoph and several other members of the South Laguna Civic Assn. in mid-December and thought they had reached a compromise.

The ballot question will ask whether to adopt the City Council-approved resolution that changes Laguna's general plan of development and the site's zoning to accommodate a resort. A "yes" vote affirms the council's action; a "no" vote supports the referendum to rescind the council's move.

If the council resolution is overturned, the property would revert back to its original zoning, for a mobile home park. City Manager Kenneth C. Frank said a private trailer park would provide far less coastline access than the resort plan.

Times correspondent Jason Leopold contributed to this report.

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