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Village wants limits on Aliso project

Village Laguna has its own ideas about how the Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course property should be developed — and homes are not among them.

The ideas were shared with the council at the Aug. 7 City Council meeting and were to be forwarded to Athens Group, developers of the property.

A letter written to the council by Village Laguna President Anne Caenn was divided up into segments that conformed to three minutes allowed to each speaker during the public comment and read by members of the group, including Caenn.

“In May, we suggested to the council that a significant opportunity for public input and development of planning criteria should occur before Athens Group planners proceed further with their work on planning the Aliso Creek Inn property,” Caenn said in her introduction of the group’s proposals.


“We were hoping for a city session, but since the council did not organize that event, Village Laguna conducted a workshop to develop a list of goals and concerns related to this development project.”

The workshop was at Lang Park on June 25. Representatives of the developer were invited, but declined to attend, Caenn said.

“The city is in the process of selecting an [environmental impact report] consultant who will prepare a draft report that will provide many opportunities for public input,” Athens Group spokeswoman Joan Gladstone said. “Also Athens Group held meetings with community groups for more than two years, which helped shape the concept and the specific plans for the project. We also held a Town Hall meeting on the concept in 2005 and a public meeting in April of this year to discuss the plan that was submitted later that month to the city.”

A hearing on the environmental impact report contract is scheduled for the Sept. 4 council meeting.


Subsequent to the Village Laguna workshop, a committee was appointed to compile comments included in the letter read to the council

“We believe that the overall goal of our planning efforts should be to preserve the serenity and beauty of the canyon and make it accessible to all in a manner that does not compromise the resource,” Caenn said.

Planning Commissioner Norm Grossman said it is important at this stage in the planning process to stake out a position.

“Village Laguna’s letter clearly states what they want,” Grossman said. “I am glad they did it. It is better to be pro-active than reactive.

“What is really important is to set the project’s objectives properly so that planning is not constrained.”

However, in the opinion of Village Laguna, residential development is not appropriate for the site, which is zoned for hotel, recreation and open space.

“The beauty and drama of this landscape is best enjoyed by visitors leaving a light footprint rather than permanent occupants who bring much greater impacts,” Caenn said.

Impacts of residential development include grading, paving and vegetation clearing and the introduction of more electrical lighting than currently comes from the inn and the rental cottages, according to Village Laguna. Fire hazards would be increased, Caenn said, and domestic animals would impact wildlife.


Traffic would also be increased and conflicts between property owners who want privacy and the public users would be inevitable, she said.

However, residential development on golf courses is seen by many as a bonus.

“It is usually the case that buyers are willing to pay a premium price for golf course homes,” said Greg Vail, director of forward planning and sustainable development for Athens Group. “Modern golf courses and residential homes are designed in relationship to one another.”

Whatever is built on the site, it should conform to the city’s general plan or existing zoning, according to Village Laguna.

“Tax income considerations should not dictate decisions,” said Charlotte Masarik, the second reader of the lengthy Caenn letter.

Masarik said all environmentally sensitive areas of the canyon should be preserved — that mitigation would not adequately compensate for habitat loss. And the sensitive areas should not be subject to measures to reduce fire fuels.

The letter urged that archeological, paleontological and historical remains be thoroughly researched and preserved either in place or where appropriate or exhibited where appropriate, including the YMCA parcel donated in the 1930s for a youth camp facility. Village Laguna urged that the campsite be used for its original intention and not swapped for other land owned by the developers, as planned.

Village Laguna also opposes the developer’s proposed reconstruction of the home built by the homesteading Thurston family in Aliso Canyon unless it is an accurate replica, including the interior on the original site.


Village Laguna attached a statement of the Secretary of the Interior Standards for the treatment of historical properties to its presentation. The standards included a provision that physical evidence must be supplied so construction was not left to conjecture.

Photographs of the exterior of the Thurston home are available. The standards, as submitted by Village Laguna, recommend the preservation of any historic materials, features and special relations that remain, but do not require the duplication of the interior.

Rather than a posh residential resort a la Montage Resort & Spa, Village Laguna would prefer to see moderate-cost facilities — a hostel, hotel and restaurants in the affordable range, as well as a golfing price structure favoring locals and affordable housing off-site for employees.

The long-envisioned Trail to the Sea should be required, according to the Village Laguna manifesto, and include educational and interpretive viewpoints.

Village Laguna also recommended that local parking permits be honored the same as at the garage at Treasure Island Park, which is city owned.

Other construction recommendations:

  • Traffic signal at the Coast Highway entrance to the property be considered.
  • Preservation of the existing topography — concerns were raised about the effect on Aliso Creek if the land is lifted above the flood plain.
  • Not discussed were ways to prevent flooding on the property,which has suffered costly damage in the past.

  • Minimize grading and exportation of dirt. Preserve boulders found during grading.
  • Ginger Osborne dealt with the Village Laguna letter’s section on the creek.

    Village Laguna recommendations included restoration of the creek to a point that the tidewater goby could again inhabit the lagoon at the mouth of the creek.

    The city has been for more than a year with the county and the federal government on Stabilization, Utility Protection and Environmental Restoration proposal, known as the SUPER Project.

    Osborne cautioned against relying on the SUPER Project, which Village Laguna cautioned is not a sure thing.

    Among the creek recommendations:

  • Pursue alternatives to channeling the creek — water courses should flow freely and naturally.
  • Runoff from the site should be captured and used as is done at Pelican Hills.
  • Groundwater contamination to be prevented by banning the use of toxic chemicals on the golf course and other landscaping.
  • Global warming effects on the creek should be evaluated
  • Reclaimed water should be used to irrigate the site and considered for other uses such as toilets, air conditioners and fire suppression.
  • Jinger Wallace read the section on Architectural Design.

    “Laguna isn’t just Craftsman-style house, isn’t just cottages,” Wallace said., “We should look to other sources for inspiration for the design in this canyon.”

    She named works by architects Lamont Langworthy, Chris Abel and the Halliburton house as examples of site-sensitive design.


  • Architecture should be environmentally sensitive, “beyond state-of-the-art,” reflecting that Laguna is a designated Earth Trustee City.
  • Vary architecture to free designs from the constraints of conventional materials.
  • Designs should be in a scale and density appropriate to the natural setting and use natural materials.
  • “I am here to say two words you long for — in conclusion,” said Arnold Hano, who wrapped up the Village Laguna presentation to the council.

    “We appreciate your consideration of these comments. We will forward them to Athens Group and are prepared to meet to discuss the project as you [council] or the applicant may suggest,” Hano said. “We are hopeful that by sending this information now we an all work toward a positive helpful planning process for this exceptional property.

    “We suggest the council schedule a public workshop on this project very soon, so that the community will have an opportunity to provide input to the applicant at this early stage,” Hano said.


    Should new homes be prohibited in Aliso Creek development area? Write us at P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, CA, 92652, e-mail us at or fax us at 494-8979. Please give your name and tell us your home address and phone number for verification purposes only.