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More Rancho Mission Viejo Concessions Sought

Times Staff Writer

With plans to develop Rancho Mission Viejo coming up for a crucial review Monday, Orange County Supervisor Tom Wilson is proposing that the developer ante up millions more for road improvements and environmental studies and dedicate 60 acres for affordable housing.

The concessions are an attempt to mollify opposition to the 23,000-acre project, which could eventually put 14,000 new homes in rapidly developing south Orange County. About two-thirds of the land would remain open space.

The Board of Supervisors could vote Monday whether to approve Rancho Mission Viejo’s plans.

The ranch is the largest piece of private undeveloped land in the county, and the project has drawn fierce opposition from conservation groups and residents who say the development will bring too much traffic and endanger precious natural habitat.

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Many have spoken in favor, saying Rancho Mission Viejo strikes a fair balance between the need for housing and conservation. The county planning commission recommended last month that the board approve the plans.

“We have agreed to what any reasonable person would agree is fair,” said Dan Kelly, Rancho Mission Viejo’s vice president of government relations.

Under Wilson’s proposals, Rancho Mission Viejo would spend nearly $144 million to improve traffic flow on roads surrounding the project. A previous agreement had called for $128 million for additional freeway access and widening of roads, among other steps.

The developer also would pay nearly $1 million to help fund a study on how to avoid runoff and erosion problems affecting San Juan Creek.

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Wilson also called for the dedication of 60 acres for affordable housing. Rancho Mission Viejo would donate the land to the county, which in turn would work with nonprofit organizations to build housing for low-income families and seniors.

Wilson, who represents south Orange County, said the scale of the plan allows the county to address several issues in one project, thereby avoiding a piecemeal approach.

Environmental groups have vowed to sue to block the project. And some officials from surrounding cities remain concerned about traffic and other problems.

“These are positive steps,” San Clemente Mayor Susan Ritschel said of Wilson’s proposals. “But whenever the plan is approved, we want a project that is fair not only to the county, the land owner and the environment, but also to the surrounding cities.”

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Traffic is a major concern, she said, and the funding proposed is not enough to cover all of the intersections and roads that will need to be widened or improved.

County officials say Rancho Mission Viejo is already paying $50 million more for traffic improvement than what typically would be required.

“When you pay what you owe and way more than what you owe, you have gone far enough,” Kelly said.

If the board OKs the plans Monday, the project must clear several other hurdles, including environmental permits and approvals for more specific plans. Kelly said construction is not expected for at least two years and the build-out until 2025.

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