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LAGUNA BEACH : City to Pay $900,000 for Open Space Land

The city has agreed to pay $900,000 for a hilly 9.2-acre parcel of open land that it failed to obtain through eminent domain earlier this year.

The land is important to the city because it is connected to other open space areas and because of its prominent location at the north corner of Laguna Canyon and El Toro roads. Mayor Neil G. Fitzpatrick said Tuesday that he expects the property to be preserved as open space.

“It’s a very large amount of money for not a huge piece of land, but it’s a key piece of land because it’s highly visible,” Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t think we’ll do anything with it. We’ll just leave it as open space and tie it in with the other parklands.”

The council agreed unanimously during a closed session Monday evening to buy the land from Rossmoor Partners Ltd., which is headed by Leisure World founder Ross Cortese.

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The parcel has generated considerable attention since Laguna Beach resident Marielle Leeds squared off against a bulldozer on the property last year when she discovered it clearing the land without a permit.

Later, the city attempted to forcibly acquire the property through the eminent domain process, under which it offered $350,000 for the land. The parcel includes large rock outcroppings and eucalyptus trees. The offer of $350,000 fell through when a Superior Court jury in May set the land value at $1.4 million.

Negotiations between the city and the property owner’s attorney have continued since that court decision, Fitzpatrick said. Paul Freeman, a spokesman for the landowner, said the money for the land purchase is expected to change hands Friday.

City Manager Kenneth C. Frank said that the land is now zoned for no more than two homes but that the property owner had argued that he would eventually be entitled to a zone change to allow commercial development.

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