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LAGUNA NIGUEL : Ridgeline Protection Qualifies for Ballot

County officials have verified that a citizens’ group has gathered enough signatures to place a ridgeline protection ordinance before Laguna Niguel voters.

Earlier this month, the Laguna Niguel Ridgeline Protection and Preservation Committee delivered almost 5,000 signatures to City Hall in support of an initiative designed to protect undeveloped hilltops throughout the city. County officials found that 922 signatures were invalid, but enough valid signatures were verified to call a special election.

Committee members have said they will pursue a special election unless the City Council approves their ridgeline preservation proposal. A separate proposal to protect ridgelines and govern hillside development has been prepared for the city by Lawrence Associates of San Juan Capistrano.

In addition to differing setback requirements, the consultant’s hillside development ordinance would give city officials discretion in dealing with individual projects. City officials say the committee’s ordinance is too strict, rendering some property “undevelopable” and placing Laguna Niguel at legal risk.

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Planning commissioners took their first look at the two plans at their Aug. 14 meeting. City officials have indicated that they will continue considering both ordinances, possibly incorporating the best elements of each plans. The Planning Commission is expected to again consider the ordinances Sept. 11.

Should the council reject the initiative at its next meeting on Tuesday and approve a separate ordinance, a special election would be called in about 90 days. If the ridgeline protection ordinance were approved by voters and the two ordinances were to conflict in the future, the voter-approved ordinance would take precedence, City Atty. Terry Dixon said.

With organizational help from the county, a special election in Laguna Niguel would cost taxpayers about $25,000, said assistant registrar of voters Rosalyn Lever. Without county assistance, the cost could rise to $60,000, City Clerk Juanita Zarilla said Wednesday.

While many city ridgelines are already sprouting construction, committee members say their ordinance could preserve other hilltops “currently at risk” of being developed. The proposal targets skylines visible from “scenic highways” such as Coast Highway and Crown Valley Parkway. The initiative pinpoints hilltops between Pacific Coast Highway and Pacific Island Drive--such as property next to the Monarch Point housing development--and ridgelines between the southwestern area of Laguna Niguel and San Juan Capistrano.

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An attorney for owners of land that borders South Laguna, commonly known as the Binion property, said land would be “dramatically affected” by either ordinance. A tentative tract map for 32 homes on that parcel was recently submitted to the city.


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