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Panel Tentatively Backs Wetlands Compromise

Times Staff Writer

A plan to limit building in the Bolsa Chica wetlands area to residential projects and to seek restoration of nearly 1,000 acres of degraded salt marsh won tentative support Monday from an advisory group.

At the same time, the Bolsa Chica Planning Coalition, the advisory group, rejected two other development plans for the environmentally sensitive coastal tracts in unincorporated land surrounded by Huntington Beach. Although the group made substantial progress Monday, the plan it endorsed in concept will be subject to many conditions by the five coalition members.

The members are primary land owner Signal Landmark Inc.; the state Lands Commission, which owns about 200 acres of restored wetlands in the project area; Amigos de Bolsa Chica, a wetlands conservation group; the county, and Huntington Beach.

In addition, the boards of directors for the Amigos and Signal Landmark’s parent company, the Henley Group, must review and approve the plan before it is considered for final agreement at an April 10 meeting of the coalition.

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The coalition, which meets at Huntington Beach City Hall several times a month, was formed in the fall to seek a way both to restore more than 900 acres of degraded wetlands and to build thousands of homes on the rest of the ecologically sensitive land, the fate of which has been the subject of a 20-year battle between environmentalists and Signal.

The Mesa Plan that was approved in concept Monday is an alternative to a land use plan approved by the county Board of Supervisors in 1984. The ’84 plan has met with continued community resistance.

The Mesa Plan calls for building up to 4,200 homes, most on the mesa above the degraded wetlands. It also provides for restoration of at least 927 acres of wetlands. This plan is based on the theory that the port authorities of Long Beach and Los Angeles will pay to restore the wetlands, because they are required by law to make up for wetlands destroyed as they expand their own harbors.

The Mesa Plan calls for no commercial development; parkland would be included.

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One potential obstacle was eliminated Monday when the coalition agreed that a 38-acre pocket of environmentally sensitive land would be preserved; Signal, in return, would be allowed to build at the other end of the parcel.

Amigos representatives on the coalition, who have historically opposed any development in the lowlands, have tentatively accepted the compromise, which calls for Signal to build homes on about 200 acres of the wetlands.

If the coalition formally adopts the Mesa Plan on April 10, development and wetland restoration in the Bolsa Chica would still be years away. The county Board of Supervisors would have to withdraw its 1984 plan, and many government agencies would have to hold public hearings and review the new plan.

However, coalition members said after Monday’s meeting in Huntington Beach that they are pleased with progress made so far.


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