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City Offers Headlands Plan; Developer Calls It Untenable

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The city of Dana Point unveiled a new plan for the embattled Headlands project Friday that calls for open space on the high bluff top above the harbor, but the project’s developers immediately dismissed it as unworkable.

The battle over how to develop the rocky promontory that gave the city its name promises to enter a new season of acrimonious public meetings that begins with a hearing before the Planning Commission on Aug. 12.

The developer had proposed houses rising near the very top of the high bluff above the point, and behind that, a gray stone spa and resort hotel that overlooks the clean lines of parked yachts at Dana Point Harbor.

The city, in its plan put forth Friday, proposes open space on the bluff top but agrees to some houses and a beachfront resort farther up the shoreline of the 121-acre project.

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“I think it’s going to be a big hot potato,” said Sanford Edward, the Laguna Beach developer who has taken over the lead on the project. “I can guarantee you that their plan will not be built on this property.”

For residents in this seaside city, it’s more of the same in decades of fighting over the last undeveloped coastal parcel in the city and one of the last such spots in Orange County. Arguments over different plans in years past have led to two citizen referendums and two recall campaigns, and emotions have grown so high that one side in the fight blamed the other for a dead cat left in a mailbox.

The city’s latest proposal has taken a year to prepare by a team of experts and results from nine community meetings and sessions with the Planning Commission and City Council.

After the Aug. 12 hearing, the Planning Commission might hold a second public meeting, then make its recommendations to the City Council. The council is expected to take up the issue in October, officials said.

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“I think we have significant community support for it,” City Manager John B. Bahorski said of the city’s proposal. “We’re not anticipating any major changes.”

But Bahorski and city planner Daniel Bott said the proposal is a recipe for development that can be adjusted, within parameters.

Developers said it represents a starting point for talks but dismissed it as untenable.

“The city was faced with something they don’t do best--develop a piece of property,” Edward said.

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The city’s plan calls for increased coastal access through open neighborhoods of houses, along with a network of trails that follow the bluff top and a resort of about 150 rooms. It would allow 185 houses, some attached, on lots larger than 2,500 square feet.

Under the plan by Headlands Reserve LLC and the Sherman Co., the developers, there would be 206 to 267 houses, but a smaller resort of perhaps 75 to 100 rooms.

Both versions are significantly smaller than a former $500-million plan for the site under different owners. A 1994 plan called for a 400-room hotel and 370 homes. That plan was dropped after a pair of citizen referendums.

Since then, the ownership has changed. In May, Chandis Acquisitions Corp., a subsidiary of the company that publishes the Los Angeles Times, sold its 50% interest to Edward’s Headlands Reserve LLC for a reported $60 million to $70 million.

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Still, the city and developer appear far apart on the location of the hotel, the placement of houses and the amount of open space. Activist citizens side with the city, but developers said their plans satisfy residents’ concerns.

City officials want the hotel on the western portion of the site, along a beachfront area called the Strands. That placement would allow the top of the bluff to be kept relatively sparse.

The developer prefers a bluff top location for the resort that would provide better harbor views. It also would allow houses selling from $600,000 to more than $2 million to be grouped along the Strands farther up the shoreline.

City officials said they fear the developers want to clump the houses together in a gated community; developers responded Friday that the question of access to the neighborhoods is still being discussed.

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City officials also said the unstable geology of parts of the site require certain areas to remain off-limits, restrictions they said were not observed by the developers’ plans.

“They’re proposing a commercial development in an unsafe area,” planner Bott said.

City officials had been criticized for a plan that would require the movement of an estimated 1 million cubic yards of soil, a large grading task. But Edward Knight, city community development director, said most of that soil would be shifted around within the 121-acre site, and only about 1,200 cubic yards--or 100 truckloads--would have to be moved away.

Bott said the city’s proposal is a guide to protect the community’s interests on issues such as construction noise and dust, coastal access, preserving the natural terrain and guarding existing ocean views.

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Edward said he doesn’t want a showdown on the question of how to develop the Headlands, and he hopes to avoid litigation. He said he and other partners plan to live in the development when it is finished.

“We’re still trying to work with the city,” Edward said. “We’re knocking at the door, hat in hand, saying we’re willing to talk.”

Still, he said the developers would “fight to the bitter end” on the location of the resort hotel.

“It belongs over the harbor,” he said.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Disputed Development

Dana Point officials on Friday released a specific plan for the Headlands project that differs significantly from a developer’s proposal. A comparison of what each party would like:

CITY’S PLAN

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Housing units: 185 maximum

Open space: 70 acres

Resort location: Near the beach

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DEVELOPER’S PLAN

Housing units: 267 maximum

Open space: 60 acres

Resort location: On the bluff

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Sources: City of Dana Point, Headlands Reserve LLC


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