Opposition Fails to Stem Big Complex for Laguna Niguel

Times Staff Writer

Despite local residents' fears of gridlocked intersections, the Board of Supervisors Wednesday gave the Stein-Brief Group the go-ahead to build a 276,000-square-foot commercial complex in Laguna Niguel.

The project, approved unanimously, is part of Stein-Brief's huge Monarch Beach development. Planned for a 15-acre site on Coast Highway, the commercial center will include a 200-room hotel, four-screen movie theater, restaurants, shops, a market and offices. Plans for an adjacent 550-room resort hotel already have been approved.

About 3,000 homes, an 18-hole golf course and clubhouse, a tennis complex and a conference center also are slated to be built in the 550-acre Monarch Beach development.

Says Project Scaled Down

Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, whose district includes Laguna Niguel, said the project's impact on traffic "was a matter of the gravest concern," but he pointed out that Stein-Brief had scaled down its plans for the commercial center by 27%, from 375,000 square feet to 276,000. The reduction, Riley said, would ensure adequate traffic flow at the intersection at Crown Valley Parkway and Coast Highway.

A coalition of 21 homeowner groups from the area questions the county's traffic projections, however, and contends that the project could virtually stop traffic during peak hours at the busy intersection. Crown Valley Parkway is the main road linking South Laguna, Laguna Niguel and parts of Dana Point with Interstate 5.

"We don't have the technical expertise to prove them wrong, but we're very, very confident that they are wrong," said Forrest Owen, president of the Niguel Shores Homeowners Assn., one of the coalition members. "Those computer projections--compounded by future land-use decisions during the next 20 or more years, including highways that may or may not be built--won't be supported by reality at our intersection. We know it will be worse than they say."

Wants Smaller Project

Owen said his group wants the project built, but on a scale more in line with an 85,000-square-foot plan submitted by a development company and approved by the county in the 1970s. "I feel very good that we got the 27% reduction," Owen said, but added: "We're not going to quit; we're going to keep going. This is a homeowner uprising, in the category of San Clemente, San Diego, and Walnut Creek (cities that recently have imposed limits on growth). It's happening up and down the coast of California."

Robert Fisher, director of planning for the Environmental Management Agency, said the county's plans to limit commercial development on the site to 85,000 square feet were replaced three years ago by a rezoning of Laguna Niguel. Stein-Brief's proposal complies with the new requirements, which do not include a square-footage maximum and "far exceeds the standards we would hold other projects to," Fisher said.

Still Has Hope

Owen said that although the size of the project 'is now a given," the group still hopes to reduce the development's impact on traffic when it reviews Stein-Brief's site plan.

But Ed Hope, president of commercial development for Stein-Brief, said the company had "taken as much out as we can and still have a plan that works. We pleased Supervisor Riley, we tried to appease the community. They still objected, and I think that's disappointing."

The Coastal Commission must give the project final approval, but Hope said that commission staff members "very much like the project." Construction could begin as early as next fall, he said.

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