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OK Expected in Dana Point on Bluffs Plan

Land use: Headlands project of homes, hotel and parks comes before the City Council tonight. The state Coastal Commission looks to be a tougher sell.


Dana Point officials tonight are poised to approve building multimillion-dollar homes, an inn, shops and parks atop the city's majestic Headlands. But the $500-million bluff-top project still has to clear a higher hurdle: winning approval from the California Coastal Commission.

Other developers with projects in Orange County have made major concessions required by the state agency. Irvine Co.'s Newport Coast housing development, Athens Group's Treasure Island resort in Laguna Beach and the Hellman family's plan for a gated community in Seal Beach required substantial changes. When the Irvine-based Lusk Co. proposed 412 homes, an outlet mall and retail center on San Clemente's Marblehead, one Coastal Commission member last year admonished a company executive to be "a little less greedy," and the company withdrew that plan.

The agency's staff is already weighing in on the Headlands proposal, expressing concern about the potential effects on water quality and threatened species such as the coastal California gnatcatcher.

"Because of its proximity to the Dana Point and Niguel Marine Life Refuges, as well as a number of beaches that frequently rate poorly,

She wrote that the developer, Headlands Reserve LLC of Dana Point, needs to outline a way to protect water quality, rather than compensate for ill effects. She also wrote that analyzing the full effect will require more specific information about the commercial development proposed.

"The project design features fail to demonstrate that the developers and architects had water quality objectives in mind," Shackeroff wrote.

Among her suggestions were a centralized carwash area for residents, using only landscapers trained in conservation practices, and an agreement with the new community's homeowners association to maintain and update systems to reduce runoff of polluted water for at least 15 years.

Sanford Edward, president of Headlands Reserve LLC, said the development company has not yet submitted its application to the commission. When it does so shortly after winning city approval, he said, the plan will show state-of-the-art technology to combat water pollution, as well as endangered-species provisions that will exceed state and federal requirements.

Endangered species are a key concern.

J.C. Allen, a Coastal Commission biologist, wrote: "There is no doubt that the project will cause impacts" to sensitive habitats, noting that five of the eight threatened gnatcatcher territories on the site would be developed, as would eight of 13 patches of Blochman's Dudleya, a rare succulent plant with white-and-yellow flowers that is endemic to the California coast.

Also, one of the last four populations of the endangered Pacific pocket mouse is on the site, Allen wrote: "The proposed temporary preserve for the pocket mouse is certainly a very minimum level of protection, and a more permanent arrangement should be required with more definite guarantees for this species protection and recovery." Six of the tiny mammals live on the site.

The 121-acre Headlands, with its stretches of coastal sage scrub, overlooks the shore where Richard Henry Dana Jr., for whom the city is named, arrived in 1835.

"It is one of the most unique pieces of property on the whole California coast," Councilman Wayne Rayfield said. "It's the symbol by which Dana Point is known by."

The city's Planning Commission approved the project in December, and the City Council is expected to follow suit tonight.

In July, the city settled a 1998 lawsuit filed by the developer, agreeing to allow 125 ocean-view lots selling for $1.5 million to $3 million each, a 65-room seaside inn similar to Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, 40,000 square feet of commercial space and five parks linked by greenbelts and three miles of trails. The original Headlands proposal would have placed 375 houses and a 400-room hotel on the land.

About half of the land would remain open, including a 24-acre conservation park for the pocket mouse and sage scrub for the gnatcatcher. The conservation park and other open space, including a sandy beach, a harbor-view park, a strand vista park and a hilltop park with 360-degree views, would be public and would include a lighthouse, a veterans memorial and nature and cultural centers.

"This is going to open up to the public vistas that are rarely seen because the property is fenced off," Mayor Joe Snyder said last week. "It's sitting there, and the vast majority of people don't get an opportunity to witness its glory."

Edward of Headlands Reserve said the development company expects to win city approval tonight, "and I'm optimistic that it's going to be a 5-0 vote."

To mediate with the Coastal Commission, the developer has hired Gary Hunt, the longtime public face of the Irvine Co. Hunt is a partner in California Strategies, an Irvine-based consulting company specializing in government affairs and planning, and worked as the Irvine Co.'s top political strategist before leaving the company last year.

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