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Compromise Backed for Headlands Development

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Planning Commission split the difference Monday night between Headlands development plans favored by the landowners and smaller plans offered by residents, who have fought the proposed hotel/housing complex for a decade.

The commissioners unanimously backed a compromise that would allow 185 housing units and preserve 70 acres of open space in the 122-acre parcel, one of the last major plots of undeveloped coastal land in Orange County.

The plans now go to the City Council, which will begin its review at a joint meeting with the Planning Commission on April 28.

The size and location of a proposed 150-room resort hotel will be decided after the City Council settles on the preliminary plans for the entire development, including open space and housing.

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After months of public meetings, Monday was the first opportunity for planning commissioners to comment directly on the controversial development.

Chairman Bob Nichols stepped from the podium to address both representatives of the landowner and residents who filled the meeting hall.

He described a low-density proposal by a coalition of residents and environmental groups as tantamount to an “illegal takeover” of private property. On the other hand, he said, the landowner is “still thinking about developer-driven plans rather than thinking about the community.”

“We need to come together as a community and work to develop a plan” that will give the public access to the Headlands, which now is private property, Nichols said.

The city’s plan includes more than four acres of beach for public use and a walking trail that winds along the scenic bluff tops looking over the ocean.

The Headlands is owned by M.H. Sherman Co. and a subsidiary of Times Mirror Co., which publishes the Los Angeles Times.

Dan Daniels, president of M.H. Sherman, expressed disappointment with the commission’s decision.

“I don’t think the commission gave adequate consideration to the comments and testimony by our planning and legal consultants,” he said.

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Some residents also expressed their displeasure with the decision, hooting from the audience.

The main battleground at future meetings probably will be over how much weight the city’s General Plan should carry.

That plan, which is required by state law, establishes land uses within city boundaries.

The landowner maintains that Dana Point should follow its General Plan guidelines, which would permit between 261 and 522 units on the Headlands. The company therefore has submitted two alternate plans that call for a maximum of 294 units.

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City officials say the General Plan is simply a guideline that can be changed.

A coalition of residents and environmental groups called the Friends of the Headlands Nature Park propose a maximum of 100 units.

The amount of open space proposed for the Headlands also varies. The nature park proposal would set aside 84 acres. The landowner proposes about 65 acres of open space.

Each proposal sets aside a preserve for the pocket mouse, an endangered species that lives on the Headlands.

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In 1994, Dana Point residents overwhelmingly defeated plans to build a 400-room hotel, retail center and up to 370 homes on the Headlands. An appellate court upheld the vote, but said the city had to allow some development.


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