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Habitat or Dump? Dispute's Stirring

Developer is using lot near Bolsa Chica wetlands. Some say wildlife is homeless.


A developer's decision to turn a small parcel near the Bolsa Chica wetlands into a staging area for a nearby project has angered some Huntington Beach residents who say the work has ousted valuable wildlife from land that ultimately is planned for a park.

Residents say the 22,500-square-foot lot near Pacific Coast Highway and Seapoint Avenue was teeming with great blue herons, white egrets, chicken hawks, owls and other animals.

But officials for New Urban West Inc. said the land was essentially a barren lot used for trash disposal before they put gravel on the 150-foot-by-150-foot parcel and built a temporary field office to oversee a 53-home project along Seapoint Avenue. Ultimately, they say, the parcel will be restored and made part of a viable 106-acre regional park.

"They always say they want to be good neighbors and [building the lot] to me is an example of not being a good neighbor," said Al de Lorm, who lives across from the project. "What upsets us most is that they scraped everything off at the expense of wildlife."

De Lorm said he plans to write the California Coastal Commission to inform members of the destruction of wildlife habitat.

The lot now is enclosed by a 6-foot-high chain-link fence, wrapped by a black plastic tarp. Inside, grass has been replaced by gravel. The staging area will house a temporary project office for the Santa Monica-based developer, which is expected to finish the Seapoint construction by January.

Last week, the county issued a 12-month permit to the developer to build on the lot, said Jim Lockington, New Urban West project manager.

Tom Zanic, vice president of New Urban West, said county officials told the company that the area did not contain wildlife but had been a place where people have dumped trash.

The company plans to restore the site to its original state after the housing project is finished, Lockington added.

Pam Emerson, an enforcement supervisor for the South Coast district of the Coastal Commission, said the agency is investigating whether New Urban West received a special coastal development permit from the county. She said residents or environmental groups can appeal the county's decision to issue the permit to the commission, a powerful state agency that can trump local government's decisions in the coastal zone.

Huntington Beach Councilwoman Shirley S. Dettloff, who serves on the Coastal Commission, said she is disappointed that "someone would erect something on future parkland."

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