County Guarantees Not to Upset Builder's Plan

Times County Bureau Chief

In Orange County's first such pact, the Board of Supervisors tentatively agreed Wednesday to guarantee not to interfere for 10 years with a builder's plans for a 5,200-unit residential development in return for early construction of nearby roads.

Shapell Industries Inc., of Beverly Hills agreed to build a stretch of Moulton Parkway in Laguna Niguel by June 30, 1989, and to accelerate construction of a strip of Alicia Parkway, though no specific date was set.

Moulton Parkway, a major street roughly paralleling Interstate 5, would be completed several years ahead of schedule under the plan.

Shapell Industries also agreed not to seek to build more than the 5,200 residences for its proposed 1,232-acre Country Village community, while the county bound itself not to block construction or change the plans in the future.

The planned community is just south of Oso Parkway and the proposed San Joaquin Hills freeway. In addition to the residential units, the developer plans a 50-acre business park and an additional 45 acres of commercial facilities.

Still in question is whether the contract will be binding on Laguna Niguel if it incorporates as a city. Under current law the city could ignore the pact, but there is a possibility that the Legislature could change that.

Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights) has introduced a bill that would make the county's agreement binding on Laguna Niguel if it becomes a city.

The agreement between the county and Shapell is likely to be a model for future development agreements, county officials said. Builders in Mission Viejo, Dana Point and the areas being developed as Portola Hills and Dove Canyon near El Toro have proposed such agreements.

Formal approval of the contract was delayed until next Tuesday because of last-minute language changes.

The contract says the road improvements "will provide needed additional traffic capacity" in the area.

"This agreement will in turn eliminate uncertainty in planning for and securing orderly development of the project," the contract adds.

County Planning Director Robert Fisher said Shapell will wind up building about the same amount of roadway it would have been required to construct without an agreement, "but they would (have been) required to build it piecemeal, tract by tract."

Under the system used by most developers, a stretch of road is built as a tract is completed. Years can pass before an adjoining stretch is built. In some cases, gaps in the road system are left because development has not occurred. That is what happened near the unfinished portions of Moulton and Alicia parkways.

Fisher said that in past years the county sometimes was "willing to step in and finish those projects. Primarily it was . . . (the county) filling in gaps, but we don't have the money to fill in the gaps these days."

Now Shapell is committed to "accelerating the construction and filling this gap much sooner than will otherwise occur."

Development agreements have been allowed under state law for nearly seven years, county officials said. They provide an element of certainty for a builder who otherwise may be unsure whether a project will be blocked up to the moment construction starts.

Developers say such agreements look more attractive now than in the past because of the emerging strength of the slow-growth movement in Orange County.

Without an agreement, a moratorium on growth could wreck a developer's project.

In the past, developers "did not seem to have a lack of certainty," Fisher said. "The county was good in keeping up its end of the bargain" and letting developers build what was approved, he said.

There were "no fears of development moratoriums or incorporating cities. Some of those things have changed," Fisher added.

Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, whose district includes Laguna Niguel, stressed that Shapell still will have to go to the Planning Commission for approval of area plans, site plans and other approvals of the Country Village development as construction occurs.

He said the roads to be built are of "regional importance and will benefit the entire south county." Riley estimated the cost of the new road construction at $6 million to $7 million.

County officials said Shapell also will be required to post a bond to guarantee that it will build the roads and will have to take part in a transportation management system involving possible car pooling and van pooling.

In addition, the company has agreed to build the commercial portions of the development as it builds the residential portions, so homeowners can do at least some of their shopping in the area and not overload roads in the region.

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