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County Dissolves Toll-Road Link to Housing Plan : Land-use: Mission Viejo Co. can go ahead with project whether corridor is built or not.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An agreement linking the final phase of a 17,300-home development to construction of the San Joaquin Hills toll road has been modified by the County Board of Supervisors and now allows the development to proceed regardless of whether the road is built.

In exchange for dissolving the link to the toll road, the Mission Viejo Co., developer of the planned community, will advance the county $34 million toward construction of the corridor segment through Aliso Viejo.

Opponents argued that the supervisors were wrong to amend the development agreement because the fate of the corridor is still in question. Existing roads, which are already overburdened, will be further strained if the development proceeds and the toll road is not built, the opponents said.

“It’s a real travesty for the people who live in the south end of Orange County,” Laguna Beach resident Sandy Lucas said. " . . . They’re going to dump another 2,700 homes on us without even trying to improve the infrastructure.”

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But Mark Goodman, an aide to Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, said the new agreement translates into a “huge public benefit” for the county, in part because the Mission Viejo Co. has agreed to add $9 million to the $51 million it originally planned to provide for public improvements and because $34 million of that will be given in advance.

“It’s like playing in the lottery,” Goodman said. “If you win $34 million and they give it to you today, it’s worth a lot more than if they pay it to you over 20 years.”

The county’s original agreement with the Mission Viejo Co. provided that 1,300 of the project’s final 2,700 homes could be built when a contractor was selected to build the corridor segment through Aliso Viejo, and the remaining 1,400 upon completion of that part of the toll road.

Under the amendment unanimously approved by the supervisors Tuesday, the permits for 1,300 homes can be issued any time after Jan. 1, 1992. Permits for the final 1,400 homes can be issued after Jan. 1, 1995, if other parts of the agreement are met.

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The development is south of the Leisure World retirement community between El Toro Road and Moulton Parkway. Sherry Meddick, an environmental activist from Silverado Canyon, said the supervisors’ action could impact other county development agreements which link the fate of thousands of new homes to the construction of three local toll roads.

“Is this going to start a whole plethora of requests to modify developments?” Meddick asked Wednesday. “I think (the modified agreement) is very significant. It means the Board of Supervisors on Monday can say no, on Tuesday can say yes, and on Wednesday can think up a whole new strategy.”

Wendy Wetzel, a spokeswoman for the Mission Viejo Co., said that the homes are not scheduled to be built for 10 years but that the new agreement gives the company “certainty in our building environment and enables us to do better long-term planning.”

Goodman said construction of the corridor through Aliso Viejo will begin as soon as the $34-million advance is received, despite legal challenges asserting that the corridor’s environmental-impact documents are flawed.

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“We’re not going to wait, we’re going to go,” he said. “It’s my hope we can start construction by the end of the year or early next year.”

Environmentalists said Wednesday that they were outraged by the supervisors’ decision. Tom Rogers, a longtime opponent of the toll road and a member of Save Our San Juan, one of four environmental groups that raised the legal challenges, said he will seek an injunction to keep the road from being built before the lawsuit is settled.

“The crassness of it shocks me,” Rogers said. “These people are so arrogant and so unconcerned about the welfare of the citizens that have to use the . . . roads. That’s the shocking thing. You’d think they would have some class and at least hold off until the court case is adjudicated.”

City officials from neighboring Laguna Beach, who vehemently oppose the corridor, also objected to the modification, fearing that it will further clog local traffic. Mayor Neil G. Fitzpatrick had asked Riley, whose supervisorial district includes the Aliso Viejo development, to require a traffic study before taking action on the amendment.

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On Tuesday, however, Riley said he was “prepared to go ahead with my proposed action” and called it part of “an aggressive effort to accelerate construction of the San Joaquin Hills corridor.”

Fitzpatrick said Wednesday that the vote means “a terrible traffic condition is going to get even worse.”


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