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Coastal Commission Gives OK to Fitness Center in Aliso Viejo

Times County Bureau Chief

A plan for a $50-million national fitness academy in Aliso Viejo, where coaches and physical fitness teachers will be trained, cleared its last major hurdle Thursday with a vote by the California Coastal Commission.

The backers of the academy “basically got what they wanted,” said Gary Timm, a commission analyst.

“Outstanding,” said Orange County Supervisor Thomas F. Riley. “It seems a long time coming, and certainly there have been some frustrating and disappointing intermediate actions, but I think it makes it all worthwhile for everybody now.”

The nonprofit National Fitness Foundation announced in January of 1985 that it had chosen Aliso Viejo over sites in Malibu and Texas to house the complex of sports fields, swimming pool, tennis courts, 300-person dormitory and classrooms.

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But George Allen, the former Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins coach who is chairman of the foundation, and other foundation members complained about the lengthy process needed to acquire permission from the county and the state to build in the environmentally sensitive area.

Board Must Approve

The county required public access to the site and ordered a reduction in what was originally proposed as a 250,000-square-foot main building. Then the Coastal Commission staff recommended stiffening some conditions, but commission members vetoed most of the staff suggestions Thursday.

With seven votes needed, commission members voted 7 to 3 to approve the plans at their meeting in San Francisco. The county Board of Supervisors has the final approval, which is assured.

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On a key condition, the coastal commissioners voted 6 to 4 to reject their own staff’s recommendation that builders of the academy be required to use an existing road onto the site near Laguna Beach.

Instead, there will be a new road that will provide a sweeping view of the complex, with a bell tower and flame called the “flame of freedom,” to those approaching the center.

The committee staff had argued that the new road could create “significant adverse impacts upon marine resources” in the area of Aliso Creek.

“The new road was real important, that was the most important thing, I thought,” said Peter Herman, an aide to Riley, who represents the coastal district including Aliso Viejo and who has been a major proponent of the academy.

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County officials had argued that the new road would provide access to the site at a point directly across from Laguna Niguel Regional Park and would be safer than the existing road.

The commissioners did require that the public have access to some facilities at the academy from 6 to 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. to dusk Monday through Friday, and from 3 p.m. to dusk on Sunday.

The academy will be on a 190-acre site 2 1/2 miles from the ocean. The Mission Viejo Co. donated the land to the county in 1979 in exchange for permission to build its Aliso Viejo housing development. The county is leasing the land to the National Fitness Foundation for $1 a year.

Riley said that with Coastal Commission approval, “now the only thing we have to do is fulfill our commitment to the President that he will be in office when we break ground.”

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Riley and Allen had promised President Reagan, a supporter of the academy, that they would begin building before he leaves office on Jan. 20, 1989.

Still ahead, however, is the fund raising. Allen has always contended that raising the money, largely from corporate donations, would not be difficult once benefactors knew there was a definite site for the project.

Allen, who is also the chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, said the United States is the only major nation without a fitness academy.

“There’s such a need in the United States for an institution of this type,” Allen said several months ago. “It’ll be great for Southern California.”

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