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The Region

Coastal Panel Delays Ruling on Headlands

Habitat concerns prompt the commission to wait until January to decide on plans for 125 homes and a hotel on the Dana Point site.

October 10, 2003|Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Keeping alive a years-long battle, scores of community activists and environmentalists urged the state Coastal Commission on Thursday to reject plans to build homes, an inn and even a faux lighthouse on a majestic 121-acre promontory on the Dana Point coastline.

The commission was urged by its own staff to deny developer Sanford Edward's plans for the Headlands but decided Thursday evening to postpone a decision until its January meeting, giving the developer time to resolve the commission's environmental concerns.

Commissioners said they wanted the additional time to determine how much development to allow in sensitive habitat. They also want the developer to reduce beach grading and to consider refurbishing a sea wall instead of building a new one along the coast. New sea walls cannot be built under state law.

Edward said he is "cautiously optimistic" that he will be allowed to proceed.

"The commission is supportive of the hotel and some development in the environmentally sensitive habitat. What we need to look at is refinement to the grading," he said.

Chris Evans, executive director of the Surfrider Foundation, praised the commission's actions Thursday.

"We're one step closer to a project that is lawful," he said.

Developers have been trying since 1989 to build on the property, which once was landfall for sailors exploring the California coastline. It is one of the last undeveloped promontories in Southern California.

The current project, approved by the Dana Point City Council, calls for 125 luxury homes and a 90-room inn on the Headlands and strand area of the city. The 121-acre plan also includes 40,000-square feet of commercial space and five parks linked by greenbelts and three miles of trails.

A majority of the 12-member commission said Thursday that they supported the project but want their concerns about environmental issues resolved before they would approve it.

"This has been a good-faith effort to respect the environment and serve the community," said Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill.

The sea wall could alter beach erosion, staffers said, while the grading would destroy 9 acres of habitat that is home to the pocket mouse and gnatcatcher, as well as a rare grass and several native shrubs.

Edward, however, said his plans have been revised so that much of the property will be preserved as open space. "It's difficult not to conclude that we are saving the Headlands," he said.

The sea wall issue has been among the most vexing. A rock revetment that remains in place was used to protect a trailer park on Dana Point Strand that was condemned in the 1980s. All that remains is an old clubhouse, concrete paths and a few roads.

Edward plans to expand and reinforce the sea wall, which runs about 2,100 feet at a height of 15 to 19 feet. The builder plans to increase the wall's height by 1 to 2 feet.

Environmental groups have long opposed sea walls and artificial reefs, arguing that they can cause beach erosion and act as a barrier to the ocean.

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