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Verdict on 11-Home Laguna Beach Project Expected Tonight

September 23, 2003|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

After three years of revisions and dozens of neighborhood meetings, the fate of a hillside housing project in south Laguna Beach is expected to be decided tonight by the City Council.

The Driftwood Estates was proposed in 2000 as a development of 18 large, ocean-view homes. Partly because of strong opposition from environmentalists and neighbors, the development has since been pared to 11 homes.

Still, opponents criticize the project for two reasons.

Some critics have argued that the large homes would not fit with the character of the other homes in the area, and they specifically express anxiety about two oversized lots which, they say, will be able to accommodate "Hummer houses and starter castles."

The homes projected for the two large lots would be more than 10 times larger than others in the neighborhood, where homes are generally about 2,000 square feet. Construction of the oversized homes, opponents charge, would change the residential character in that part of the city.

Other opponents say they are worried that after the developers win approval to build the 11 homes, they will develop in piecemeal fashion an adjacent 217-acre parcel they also own.

The developers have promised to leave undeveloped the larger parcel, which provides habitat to various endangered species and is a critical link to nearby wildlife corridors.

For more than a decade, environmentalists have campaigned to keep the acreage undeveloped.

Developers of Driftwood need the larger parcel to provide habitat for the big-leaved crown-beard -- a yellow-flowered member of the daisy family -- and other chaparral, as well as small amounts of coastal sage scrub.

In exchange for approval of the 11 homes, the developer is required to provide three times the amount of plant species lost to development, and twice what will be lost as fire-prevention zones.

The housing proposal came before the council in February, but no action was taken.

Since then, Laguna Beach Councilman Steve Dicterow has organized several neighborhood meetings with project opponents and the developer, Highpointe Communities.

Mayor Toni Iseman said she expects the issue to be resolved at tonight's special meeting.

"It's going to be a tough decision for the council," Iseman said. "But we've waited a long time and I think we're ready."

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