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Dana Point Approves Headlands Plan Easily

Council unanimously OKs building 125 homes, a hotel and mall on the promontory.

September 23, 2004|Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writer

After decades of failed plans and political standoffs, the Dana Point City Council on Wednesday approved the controversial Headlands project on one of Southern California's last remaining undeveloped coastal promontories.

The unanimous vote clears the way for construction of 125 homes, a 65- to 90-room inn and a 35,000-square-foot shopping mall and visitors center on 53 acres of the majestic coastline. An additional 68 acres will remain open space with neighborhood parks, hiking trails and a 28-acre conservation area.

"The battle cry has always been 'Save the Headlands, save the Headlands,' " developer Sanford Edward said before Wednesday's vote. "This plan saves the Headlands."

After a series of compromises to allocate more land to open space, Edward said, "I think I am being reasonably generous. I mean, how much am I supposed to give?"

Despite the property's contentious past, Edward said he was "cautiously optimistic" and hoped to break ground by early next year. But the project's opponents vowed to file legal challenges, decrying the plan as yet another encroachment on Southern California's dwindling coastal environment.

Surfrider Foundation member Michael Lewis told council members, "If it is a courtroom that you want, it is a courtroom that you might get."

Wednesday's vote marked perhaps the last significant chapter in the three-decade battle over development of the Dana Point Headlands.

In 1974, 15 years before the city's incorporation, the Orange County Board of Supervisors agreed to allow more than 800 homes, two 400-room hotels and 27 acres of commercial development on the site.

Over the years, developers faced fierce opposition from local residents and environmentalists. In 1994, voters overturned City Council approval of a 400-room hotel and 370 homes on the site.

Edward's company, Headlands Reserve LLC, bought the land in 1998 from the Chandler family, former owners of the Los Angeles Times.

Some environmental groups, including the Endangered Habitats League, have said the project struck a fair balance. The plan has also been approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game.

But others, including the Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club, continue to oppose the project.

"We are taking these last spectacular, undeveloped coastal treasures and we are throwing luxury resorts and mansions on them," Mark Massara, Sierra Club director of coastal programs, said before the council vote. "Now, the coastal wilderness will feel like walking into someone's backyard.... This project represents a dramatic loss for Dana Point and the state of California."

The city originally approved Edward's project in early 2002, but the plan required clearance from the state Coastal Commission.

The commission narrowly approved the plan in 2004 and imposed a number of conditions, including the increase of conservation areas by about 4 acres and reduction of the residential areas by 6.5 acres. The commission also eliminated a faux lighthouse and cultural arts center from the plans.

The City Council on Wednesday voted to accept those changes.

In the Headlands development, 75 custom homes will overlook Strand Beach, just north of the promontory. Fifty additional custom homes will be on the top of the Headlands. About 20 homes are on the promontory from previously approved plans.

The plan also calls for reinforcement of a 2,240-foot seawall to protect the bluff against erosion and safeguard the proposed homes.

The Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club contend the seawall construction is illegal because state law prohibits the construction of new revetments.

The Coastal Commission has ruled that the reinforcement is not new construction, but merely an alteration of the existing structure.

Edward said he was confident his project would prevail against any legal challenges.

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