Irvine Coast Development Plan OKd

Times Staff Writer

The largest stretch of vacant coastal land remaining in Orange County--more than 9,400 acres--was approved for development Wednesday when the Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the Irvine Co.'s plan for a resort with four hotels, two golf courses and about 2,600 homes.

The decision ended more than 23 years of confrontation between opponents of the development and the Irvine Co. over how the 2.5-mile stretch of oceanfront between Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar should be developed.

During the fight, environmentalists, slow-growth advocates and neighbors testified against the project in dozens of public hearings and eventually challenged the company in court. The latest proposal won support from the largest opposition group, Friends of the Irvine Coast, which has about 2,000 members and was organized in response to the project more than 10 years ago.

In the company’s latest plan, 76% of the site will remain open space, meaning that it will contain no buildings. The area will include trails and parks. And, most notably, the company dropped its plan for a 10-story office building on the site.


“It started out with something almost the size of another Newport Beach city,” Fern Pirkle, president of the Friends of the Irvine Coast, said Wednesday. “It took a long time . . . but we think this is almost a turning point for possible better relations between environmental groups and developers.”

Carol Hoffman, an Irvine Co. vice president, said: “We think it represents a very thoughtful balance. Someone can still go into the public open space and walk into a canyon and find a beautiful lookout to the ocean.”

Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, whose district contains the acreage, attributed part of the accord between the developers and citizens’ groups to changes over the last 10 years.

“We’ve really urbanized over the past decade and the Irvine Co. (administration) itself has changed,” Riley said. “A lot of things are different in Orange County.”


The supervisors’ vote Wednesday approved the development in concept, changing the zoning of the area to allow the hotels, housing and golf courses. The California Coastal Commission recently approved the same plan in a unanimous vote.

Specific designs for the development are still being prepared by the company and will require additional public hearings and county approvals before construction. There are no further approvals required from the Coastal Commission, unless some of the county’s decisions are appealed.

Hoffman said the company hopes to start construction of the first road through the area by next July. But, she said, the entire project and the approval process is likely to take another seven to 15 years.

Traffic was one of the major concerns of the project’s opponents. Pirkle said much of that problem was mitigated when plans for the office building were abandoned.


The site is also expected to benefit from the county’s first toll road, the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor. Pelican Hills Road, the first road to be built through the development, would connect Coast Highway with the new turnpike 6 1/2 miles away.

At the supervisors’ meeting Wednesday, Terry Watt, representing Friends of the Irvine Coast, spoke in favor of the plan. But some Laguna Beach residents still expressed concern about the area’s wildlife that might be displaced. They asked for more studies.

The company’s first proposal for the land, submitted in 1964, called for up to 21,500 homes. In 1976, the company submitted another plan that was approved by the Board of Supervisors but rejected by the Coastal Commission.

A third plan in 1981 was approved by the supervisors and the Coastal Commission, but it was challenged in court by Friends of the Irvine Coast. In 1983, after Donald L. Bren assumed the helm of the Irvine Co., the company scrapped its previous plans and started discussing a new project in cooperation with residents.


The Irvine coastal project will be one of about half a dozen so-called “destination resorts” planned for the south Orange County coast. When they are completed, local developers hope the area will rival some of the world’s most exotic vacation spots.