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Most Would Become Park : Compromise Is Near for Holmwood Canyon Site

Times Staff Writer

After months of sensitive negotiations, agreement is near on a deal that would scuttle a 38-unit housing development proposed for a Solana Beach canyon and instead preserve the 16-acre parcel as parkland, officials said Friday.

The apparent compromise on the future of Holmwood Canyon, a lush sliver of land west of Interstate 5 on the south rim of San Elijo Lagoon, was described by one party close to the negotiations as “nothing more than a tentative verbal understanding.”

Nonetheless, a spokesman for the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land (TPL), which has been working to acquire the canyon for eventual resale to the county, said, “Our attorney is drawing up the terms and conditions and plans to send them to the county and the property owner in the near future.”

Holmwood Canyon has been the object of a fierce tug of war between environmentalists and area residents, who want it preserved as open space, and the property’s owners, North County developers Donald and Joseph Balsley.

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After years of struggle, the Balsleys in December won county approval to build 38 hillside homes in the canyon. Meanwhile, TPL has been working to buy the land on behalf of the county. The goal is to add the parcel to the 580-acre San Elijo Lagoon Regional Park, home to two endangered bird species.

Although all sides were reluctant to discuss specifics of the proposed agreement Friday, it appears to include four alternative sets of conditions described as acceptable to the Balsleys. They are:

- The developers will sell the land for $1.7 million but retain the right to build three houses in the canyon.

- Sale of the land for $1.8 million to $1.9 million and the right to develop two lots.

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- Sale of the land for $1.9 million to $2 million and rights to one home site.

- No development in the canyon and a price tag of $2.2 million to $2.3 million.

Robert Copper, the county’s director of parks and recreation, said that after he receives an “official” outline of the settlement alternatives from TPL, it will be forwarded to the county Board of Supervisors for action, probably in about two weeks.

“This is merely a tentative proposal, and it will still be up to the board to decide whether this is what they want and whether funding is available,” Copper said. “The supervisors could respond by saying let’s go out and do more dickering. But at this point we are encouraged and hopeful that Holmwood will become part of San Elijo Park.”

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While conceding that “those sound like the kind of figures we’ve been tossing about,” Joseph Balsley was reluctant to comment on the proposed settlement “until we’ve got everything in writing, a true compromise before us.”

“Our preference would be for three lots, but I think it’s fair to say that those other alternatives are within the parameters we have discussed,” Balsley said.

As for the group of environmentalists and property owners who have led efforts to place Holmwood under county control, a spokesman said that talk of an imminent settlement is “a good sign.”

“I’m getting conflicting reports on this, so I’m hesitant to speculate on what it all means,” said Jack Peek, leader of the 600-member Friends of Holmwood Canyon. “But we’re anxious for a resolution. We’d like to get on with it.”

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Peek declined to endorse any of the proposed alternatives. But he did express concern that the cost of buying the land, combined with the estimated value of the home sites permitted, appeared to exceed the county’s appraisal of the parcel at $2 million. The Balsleys have said their appraisers have determined that the land is worth $2.75 million.

The county has lined up several sources of funding to purchase the canyon from TPL, a nonprofit corporation that buys land threatened by development, then resells it to public agencies.

The state Coastal Conservancy has approved a $1-million loan for the purchase and $150,000 in state park bond money is available.


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