LAGUNA NIGUEL : Panel to Consider Two Ridgeline Plans

The Planning Commission tonight will compare two proposed ordinances intended to protect undeveloped ridgelines and govern hillside development throughout Laguna Niguel.

On Friday, a petition signed by more than 5,000 residents was delivered to the city in support of an initiative backed by the Laguna Niguel Ridgeline Protection and Preservation Committee, members said. A separate, city-backed ordinance has been in the making for several months.

Larry Lawrence, whose San Juan Capistrano firm developed the proposal for the city, said that planning commissioners will compare the two options tonight. "They both try to achieve some of the same goals, so they're not really in contrast with each other," he said. "It's just that their focus is different."

Members of the Ridgeline Protection and Preservation Committee, however, have said repeatedly that they will push for their own ordinance, which they insist is tougher than the city plan. They say they have collected enough signatures to force a special election if city officials reject their proposal. The committee and the city have different setback requirements.

One major difference in the two options is that the city's ordinance would give "city decision-making bodies more discretion in dealing with individual projects," Lawrence said.

"It's a very important distinction," he added.

If city officials are not allowed such leeway, Lawrence said, some property could be rendered undevelopable, leaving the city open to potential legal problems. "That's our biggest concern," he said, "because you can't do that under the law."

Members of the Ridgeline Protection and Preservation Committee had attempted to have their proposed ordinance put on the Laguna Niguel City Council agenda last week to allow time to place the issue before voters in November's election. When they learned that the issue would not be placed on the agenda, committee members continued collecting signatures to make sure that they would have enough to call a special election if necessary. More signatures are needed to call a special election than are required to have a measure placed on the ballot during a regular election.

"We wanted to make sure this was ironclad so there was not a question in anybody's mind that we had enough to qualify," said Richard Taylor, chairman of the committee. However, since a special election would be an additional burden to taxpayers, Taylor said, committee members are hoping that city officials will endorse their ordinance.

"It's been a real hard push," he said. "I feel it would be in their best interest if they adopted it. I mean 5,000 (signers) say they want it."

The Planning Commission is expected to consider the two proposals tonight and then continue the public hearing until the Aug. 28 meeting, Lawrence said. Tonight's meeting will begin at 7 p.m.

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