One of Orange County's last major stretches of undeveloped coastline is destined to become a large-scale housing project and resort hotel complex, according to plans unveiled by a developer.
Once considered a prime site for the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library, the 100-foot sandstone bluffs in northern San Clemente will be part of an oceanfront development that will include a major hotel, an 18-hole golf course and up to 500 homes, officials from the Irvine-based Lusk Co. told city officials.
Ending months of speculation over the 253-acre site, known as the Marblehead Bluffs, Lusk officials gave a preview of the project at a joint meeting of the City Council and several city commissions late Wednesday.
In a short presentation, company Vice President Donald Steffensen told city officials that the project would be "low-intensity" and boasted that the golf course would provide 60% open space.
"We're very happy about this project," Steffensen said Thursday. "This is certainly a major development for the city and one of the last developable sections of coast in the county."
The Lusk Co. official said he hopes to give more precise preliminary plans on the project to the city Planning Department in about a month, adding that it would probably take a year for the project to win approval from the city and the state Coastal Commission.
The plans are marked by a sharp decline in density from the project that former President Nixon abandoned in 1987.
After four years of negotiations among Nixon aides, the City Council and Lusk Co. officials over what was then planned as a 1,198-home project that included a hotel and 70 acres of commercial development, the former president decided that his library should be built in his hometown of Yorba Linda.
Councilman Thomas Lorch said the scaled-down development would probably face lighter community opposition than the Nixon Library proposal.
"On the surface," he said, "I don't see it as a real controversial project."
Lorch said his main concern was over losing wetlands and man-made canyons on the site that are home to a variety of wildlife.
"Maybe 15 years ago it wouldn't add up to much," he said, "but in today's environmentally sensitive climate it could mean something to people."
The Lusk Co. came under heavy criticism during emergency excavation of unstable cliffs on the Marblehead property, which forced the closure of El Camino Real for several weeks beginning in February.
Citizens angered by the destruction of the scenic bluffs have accused the company of preparing the land for a major construction effort.
Steffensen said the company decided to reveal its plans to set the record straight.
"This has been such a high-profile piece of land," he said, "and there had been such an intense amount of speculation over what we are doing . . . that we thought we'd show some of the plans now."