Newport council to consider Banning Ranch at special meeting

Opponents and supporters of the proposed Banning Ranch development are preparing for a contentious special Newport Beach City Council meeting Monday.

The council could give final approval to 1,375 homes, a small hotel, commercial space, open space and parks.

One of the largest privately owned undeveloped parcels in coastal Southern California, the ranch, a 400-acre oil field near West Newport, has been the subject of intense debate for more than two years.

Conservationists want to keep the entire property as open space, while developers want to build on about half of the land while preserving and restoring the rest.

In order to approve the plans, the council would have to declare that public benefits from the development outweigh its costs. It would still need approval from the California Coastal Commission and other regulatory agencies.

A city-funded study found that Newport Banning Ranch, if fully built, would bring in a net $2 million per year from taxes, fees and other economic activity from its estimated 3,000 residents. That is considering the police, fire, recreation and other services that the city would have to provide.

The developer has also tentatively agreed to pay the city $42 million in development fees, assuming the project is built-out.

Residents in the adjacent Newport Crest condominium community, though, would get noise and light pollution from the hotel, homes and parks, the project's environmental impact report found.

Also, traffic and road noise would both worsen on Costa Mesa's Westside. The Costa Mesa City Council this week approved a contract with the developer for $4.4 million to improve traffic conditions, although the project's application is with the Newport Beach council.

Only a small part of the property is in Newport Beach city limits; the remainder is unincorporated county land that would be annexed.

The developer, Newport Banning Ranch LLC, is a consortium of Aera Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, and two other companies.

Both Newport Beach Mayor Nancy Gardner and Councilman Rush Hill owned stock in Exxon Mobil in 2010, but Gardner sold her shares in 2011, according to her statement of economic interests. Hill's annual statement shows that his family trust owned less than $100,000 in Exxon Mobil stock in December, and he said Friday he plans to recuse himself from the vote.

Members of the Banning Ranch Conservancy and the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club are planning a rally before the meeting, which begins at 6 p.m.

Twitter: @mreicher

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