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Athens to unveil golf course plans

Folks are being invited to preview the plan being proposed for the redevelopment of the Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course and Driftwood Estates properties.

The Athens Group/Montage Resort and Spa partnership will present the Aliso Creek Area Redevelopment Plan at a “Town Hall Meeting,” to be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Terrace Room of the inn, 31106 Coast Highway in South Laguna.

The public is invited. Reservations are not required.

“We will be presenting specific plans for the site,” Athens Group spokeswoman Joan Gladstone said.

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The proposal includes a new trail connection to the ocean, the dedication, conservation and management of significant open space, a new inn and residential component and a reconfigured 9-hole golf course. Gladstone declined to go into more details of the plan.

Public input will not be sought at the meeting, but questions will be taken, Gladstone said.

“We have been working with the community for nearly two years,” Gladstone said.

“We have had a dozen briefing sessions, and many meetings with individuals and groups and we also had a comprehensive web site posted and answered questions on it.

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“We have had an ongoing outreach program. In addition, we have made an effort to evaluate the area, review land use constraints and to think through design options.

“An opportunity for public comment will come during the environmental impact report process, which will be required when the project is submitted to the city.”

The city hired a highly regarded former city planner, Kathy Lottes, to work with the developer throughout the planning process.

Her services were to be paid by the property owners, although she will report directly to Community Development Department Director John Montgomery.

Gladstone did not know if Lottes had been made privy to the plans to be presented Wednesday. Lottes was unavailable for comment.

How closely the specific plan to be presented Wednesday adheres to the concept presented 18 months ago is not clear.

For more information, call (949) 499-9598 or after the meeting, visit www.alisocreekinnupdate.com, when it will be updated.

BACK STORY

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The Athens Group/Montage Resort & Spa partnership bought the properties in March of 2004.

Some environmental and civic groups shuddered when rumors began floating that the new owners were exploring the possibility of trading a cleanup of Aliso Creek for use of public parkland to be added to the site.

A coalition with the slogan of Voices of the Wilderness joined forces in the fall of 2004, vowing to speak on behalf of endangered open space.

The groups met informally — no officers, no regular dates, no dues — a gathering of people concerned about the potential of development in Aliso Canyon that would lop over into Aliso and Wood Canyon Wilderness Park, Laguna Canyon Foundation Executive Director Mary Fegraus said.

The foray was dealt a death blow when then-Fifth District Supervisor Tom Wilson teed off in February of 2005 on the notion of expanding the golf course into county-owned parkland.

He said he absolutely could not support the concept, earning kudos from the environmental community.

Right up till Wilson’s press briefing on Feb. 11, the property owners had declined to discuss development options being explored.

It wasn’t until the fall that the public in general was treated to a glimpse of the revised project that the partnership had been shopping around at a series of group meetings in the interim.

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A “concept” was presented to a full house in October in the City Council Chambers. The presentation included the demolition of Aliso Creek Inn and the outbuildings that dot the 84-acre site; clustering a new lodge and “casitas” with 90-98 rooms and 40-to-50 condominiums in the already developed area nearest to Coast Highway; constructing a trail traversing the property from Aliso Beach to Aliso and Wood Canyon Wilderness Park and a promise to “overpark” the project.

“The concept is the product of input from the community,” Athens Group Vice President John Mansour said.

“We hope to do justice to the Brown Family [former owners] and the canyon environment.”

Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course was purchased from Violet Brown, now deceased, and the contiguous parcel known as Driftwood Estates from the Esslinger Family Trust.

The partnership also owns the Best Western hotel and the Laguna Chabad building across the highway from the resort.

The concept presentations did not include plans for Driftwood, now incorporated into the proposed plan. Entitlements approved by the city have expired.

As presented, the concept shut the door on expansion of the golf course to 18 holes and did not include the complete cleanup of the badly polluted Aliso Creek, which Mansour said would cost $30 million to $50 million.

While unwilling to assume the total financial burden, the partnership would provide leadership to the stakeholders, Mansour said. They are active in seeking a federal grant for the SUPER Project, named for the goals of stabilization, utility protection and environmental restoration.

“As stewards of the land, we must look beyond our own property,” Mansour said.


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