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Fullerton OKs 380-Acre Residential Plan : Development: Neighbors argue for six hours against the density of housing on part of the Unocal land. They predict more traffic, noise and pollution in East Coyote Hills.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A sprawling, 380-acre residential project, which will transform grassy hillsides and waning oil fields into the city’s largest development in two decades, was approved early Wednesday by the City Council.

The vote came after more than 150 residents, most of them vocal opponents, argued for six hours that a large part of the Unocal Land & Development Co. project would be too dense and create traffic congestion, noise and pollution. Nearly two-thirds of the East Coyote Hills project will be devoted to open space, with the 883 housing units built on just 121 acres.

Council members praised the project’s mix of homes, a sports complex, horse trails, wildlife preserve and 18-hole championship golf course, to be built over the next 25 years on one of the largest remaining undeveloped parcels in the city.

The project is in an area bounded roughly by Harbor Boulevard on the west, Bastanchury Road to the north, State College Drive on the east and Skyline and Ladera Vista drives to the south.

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It posed a dilemma for council members, who had to weigh the fairness of Unocal’s commitment of open space in exchange for higher-density neighborhoods of apartments or condominiums, which will be designed for first-time home buyers.

“We’re talking about the entire city and how (the project) affects the entire city,” Councilman A.B. (Buck) Catlin said. ". . . We have a need for diverse housing, and it has got to go somewhere.”

Mayor Don Bankhead was the only member of the council to vote against the project, saying he prefers an alternative plan that would have made the project’s northwest end less dense.

About 110 acres of the development has been found to be the habitat of 17 California gnatcatchers, a candidate for the federal endangered species list. Unocal will develop 56 acres of the habitat and keep 54 untouched. Another 54 acres elsewhere will be replanted as part of a pilot program attempting to relocate the birds.

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Some residents questioned whether the gnatcatchers could be successfully relocated.

Unocal officials said their plan must be approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Most of the controversy centered on Unocal’s proposal to place 490 condominiums, apartments and townhomes on 36 acres at the extreme northwest end of the project. The city Planning Commission recommended an alternative plan that would have shifted 123 units to a location on the east side of the project.

Even so, Unocal officials said the shift would move the units to an area that would not be developed for 20 to 25 years and would prevent them from building part of the sports complex and delay road widenings and other street improvements. Most council members agreed.

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The shift “just postpones development decisions . . . to another generation, just so this council doesn’t have to take the heat for this,” Councilwoman Molly McClanahan said.

Some neighbors of the proposed project said the density plan would be overbearing, so they instead favor a 1980 master plan for the area that called for many more single-family homes, built on larger lots.

“Why should the developer impose such a total, incompatible monstrosity on our area?” asked John Strom, a resident of a neighboring tract.

He called the firm’s plan to cluster homes “a self-serving argument on which Unocal can get up-front cash.”

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Unocal officials plan to set back the new neighborhoods and install berms and other landscaping to shield the development from the street.

A major fear among nearby residents was that Unocal’s plan would worsen traffic along Bastanchury Road.

“Change does not always mean progress,” Fred Schneider told the council. “Please do not create a vehicular Exxon Valdez.”

But Unocal officials said they plan to make street improvements--such as widening Bastanchury Road--that will actually ease the traffic burden already there.

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Even so, Unocal’s plans won the support of such sports enthusiasts as golfers and Little League organizers, who said northern Fullerton is in dire need of new facilities.


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