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'Green' Homes Aren't a Black-or-White Issue

Some tout O.C. project as being eco-friendly, but critics say it has disturbed wild lands.

November 16, 2003|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

The unveiling of a housing development in a red-hot real estate market is always sure to stir a certain amount of interest. But when the newly built homes are touted as the Southland's first "green" or environmentally sensitive housing, there's a certain added sizzle.

Potential buyers, and some who were merely curious to see the new homes, began to arrive at the Terramor subdivision in south Orange County's Ladera Ranch at 6 a.m. Saturday.

By 10 a.m., an estimated 2,000 had braved high winds and rain for a peek at what is billed as the nation's largest "eco-oriented" housing tract.

The village's 1,260 homes are planned to exceed state energy efficiency requirements by 20%, and incorporate such innovations as solar panels hidden in the roofs, and recycled materials -- including tires, bricks, bamboo and cork -- in the floors.

But not all were ready to buy into the developers' claims of environmental friendliness, noting that the development already has had an impact on the environment with grading and construction on what had been wild land. And for many, green was good, but not the prime motivating factor to drive in from Los Angeles, Riverside and elsewhere.

"We're here because it's affordable," said Mike Canzoneri, 35, an operations manager from Santa Monica, attracted to townhomes in the $400,000 range.

Canzoneri and his wife have hunted for houses in Santa Monica, a search that can be frustrating for first-time buyers. In their neighborhood, a two-bedroom, one-bath home with about 1,500 square feet is selling for more than $700,000.

"And, we [wouldn't] ... have to send our kids to a private school" if they settled in South County, said Canzoneri's wife, who declined to give her name.

For Donnie and Adriana Glover of Glendale, the development's lush lawns, clean streets and family orientation were major selling points.

"I like the environmental aspects, too, that come with the community," said Donnie Glover, 36, a bank training manager, who would put in for a transfer from Chatsworth to his company's Irvine office. He and his wife said Glendale, by comparison, is too congested and home prices have hit the roof for what Glover described as "your basic three-bedroom home."

Terramor is the fifth of six villages to go up in the 4,000-acre master-planned community of Ladera Ranch, just east of Mission Viejo. When the community is built out, it will have 8,000 homes.

Terramor will be divided into a dozen neighborhoods with architectural styles that range from Spanish traditional to Cape Cod, from one-bedroom townhomes to six-bedroom, detached houses. Prices will range from the high $200,000s to more than $1 million.

But not everyone is sold on the eco-friendly features.

Karl P. Warkomski, an Aliso Viejo councilman and the county's first elected Green Party politician, said he fears the development is being used as a public relations ploy by Ladera Ranch's master developer, Rancho Mission Viejo, to appear environmentally friendly.

The company owns 23,000 acres in south Orange County that it is seeking to develop.

"It is what we call green-washing," said Warkomski, a member of Friends of the Foothills.

Paul John, a senior vice president at Rancho Mission Viejo, said development does not have to be an either-or proposition. "People will continue to have babies, and families need homes. We are trying to be good stewards of the land."

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