22,000 New Homes at Stake in County Development Pacts

Times Staff Writer

Some of the largest communities being planned in the county--representing more than 22,000 future homes--will be considered by the county Planning Commission today for development agreements, a controversial zoning mechanism that has been attacked by slow-growth advocates and praised by traffic experts.

Under development agreements, the county can order a freeze on the zoning for a specific project site in return for up-front contributions to public projects and road improvements outside the development.

Slow-growth advocates have charged that the agreements are specifically intended to circumvent their plan to place restrictions--by way of a ballot initiative--on development in areas that have heavy traffic.

Called Realistic Answer

But county officials and some community groups say the agreements are a realistic answer to the region's traffic problems because they will guarantee the construction of needed roadways at no cost to taxpayers.

"These are the last of the major development agreements coming," said Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, whose 3rd District includes many of the largest developments.

The communities scheduled to be considered today include Rancho Santa Margarita, Coto de Caza, Dove Canyon, Whiting Ranch, Bear Brand and Marina Hills.

The agreements on four of the projects call for contributions to the Foothill Circulation Phasing Plan, a five-year program of road-improvement projects. The foothill plan, which will cost an estimated $235 million, is being financed by builders through development agreements.

Rancho Santa Margarita is the largest of 19 applications for development agreements received so far by the county. In return for a guarantee from the county that they can build roughly 12,000 proposed homes, the developers will contribute nearly $83 million to the Foothill Circulation Phasing Plan.

Other Contributions

Whiting Ranch projects about 4,000 homes and will contribute about $40 million to the foothill plan; Coto de Caza plans about 4,600 homes and will contribute about $24 million, and Dove Canyon has about 1,300 homes and will contribute about $7 million.

The foothill plan is almost entirely within Vasquez's district. All of the other proposed agreements are within Supervisor Thomas F. Riley's 5th District. Instead of contributing to the foothill plan, those developers would pay for other regional road improvements considered necessary by county traffic officials.

The agreements are first heard by the Planning Commission, then forwarded, with a recommendation, to the Board of Supervisors for a final decision.

Representatives of the slow-growth movement have protested each of the three agreements considered so far by the Planning Commission. And some community groups have testified against specific projects.

But county officials said Monday that they have not received notice from any groups in connection with the agreements scheduled for consideration today.

Belinda Blacketer, a slow-growth activist who protested a recent development agreement for the Aliso Viejo Development Co., said she was not sure whether there would be criticism of the agreements at the meeting today. She said the group might wait until the decision reaches the Board of Supervisors.

The Rural Canyon Neighborhood Assn. has been researching the agreements being considered today. But it was not clear whether representatives would attend the meeting.

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