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Montage to Unveil Plan B for Growth

Dropping an unpopular golf course bid, Laguna Beach resort will discuss its new idea next week.

October 12, 2005|Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writer

Laguna Beach's oceanfront Montage resort has scrapped its controversial plan to build an 18-hole golf course, once considered an important ingredient for the five-star hotel.

The course, which would have encroached on a county wilderness park, was opposed by many residents, environmental groups and, ultimately, county officials.

Now, the Montage Resort & Spa and its partners are preparing to unveil another proposal for the 310 acres they own in the foothills above Aliso Beach.

The resort's developer has scheduled an Oct. 19 town hall meeting to discuss the latest plan. The meeting is part of a public outreach tactic by the developer, which some had accused of keeping residents in the dark about its ambitious golf course plan.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 14, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Laguna resort -- An article in Wednesday's California section about the proposed expansion of the nine-hole Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course described the facility as being just south of Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach. It is mostly east of the resort.

"We need to keep an eye on what they are doing, but I'm also keeping an open mind," said Bill Rihn, 75, president of the South Laguna Civic Assn.

The original plan, an expansion of the nine-hole Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course, just south of the Montage, ran into fierce opposition from environmentalists and residents because it would have taken a portion of Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, north of the Aliso Creek Inn property and on protected county land.

The plan, which was never formally submitted to planning authorities, would have required a complex approval process involving local, state and federal agencies. Amid the growing controversy, county Supervisor Tom Wilson, who represents the area, said he could not support the project, a virtual deal-breaker. But Montage and its developer, the Athens Group, did not publicly renounce the plan until this week.

"That was a sigh of relief," said Penny Elia, a Laguna Beach resident and Sierra Club volunteer who attended a private briefing with Montage and Athens officials Monday evening at the Aliso Creek Inn.

During the meeting, attended by about 60 people, Athens Vice President John Mansour said the company will seek approval for a comprehensive development plan for the 80-acre Aliso Creek Inn property and the adjacent 230-acre Driftwood Estates property.

The Montage, Athens and a private investor bought both properties early last year for an undisclosed amount. The 310 acres form a rough, hollow rectangle atop the hillside just east of Pacific Coast Highway and next to the wilderness park.

Elia said Mansour offered few details about what to expect. "About 75% of the questions were met with 'We are not prepared to talk about that yet.' "

The briefing, one of several scheduled before the Oct. 19 town hall meeting, was designed to gauge which issues residents were concerned about, said Joan Gladstone, a spokeswoman for the Athens Group. A full proposal will be presented during the meeting, which will start at 7 p.m. in Laguna Beach City Hall. The company is expected to submit a development plan to the city late this year or early next year, she said.

The city approved 11 residential lots on about 11 acres at the Driftwood Estates property in 2003. The remainder of the property was to remain open space.

Athens and Montage's new plans for the 310 acres will include a similar residential development, Gladstone said, with more open space than originally set aside in Driftwood Estates.

Rihn, the civic association president who also attended Monday's briefing, said he was heartened by the fact that Athens and Montage were seeking input from others.

"They are willing to make an important investment," he said. "I don't know. I don't want to sound overly optimistic, but I think they might be able to come up with something that makes sense for everybody."

But as Orange County's coast becomes increasingly developed, conservation groups have focused more of their energy on the remaining parcels of undeveloped land.

"Driftwood has been a priority for the Sierra Club for years," said Mark Massara, the environmental group's coastal programs director. "And we will fight tooth and nail to increase the open space in that area."

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