Laguna Beach files lawsuit against county to stop 108-acre development near Orange County Great Park

by in News

In a move to halt a 108-acre development just south of the Orange County Great Park, the city of Laguna Beach has filed a lawsuit against the County of Orange and the Lowe Enterprise Real Estate Group claiming the proposed hotel, homes, retail space and offices would bring “a significant portion of its traffic” to this seaside community and violate state planning and zoning laws.

In the complaint, filed Aug. 6 in Orange County Superior Court, attorneys for the city say the Orange County Board of Supervisors-approved project — the El Toro Development Plan — is inconsistent with the county’s general plan, which calls for land development on the former Marine Corps Airbase El Toro to be restricted to park, recreational, cultural or public-use activities. These restrictions were placed on the 47,000-acre site after plans for an international airport were scrapped following voter approval of Measure W in 2002.

County spokeswoman Molly Nichelson said the county disagrees with the city’s position and will defend itself against the lawsuit.

The Irvine parcel, approved for development by the Board of Supervisors in November 2017 by a 4-1 vote, is south of Marine Way, north of the railroad tracks running along the southern border of the former Marine base and east of O Street. The nearby area is developed with residential, commercial, government and transportation.

As approved by the board, the project would replace three large warehouses and several small buildings with large multiunit residential buildings — including 2,000 homes that could accommodate about 3,954 residents — a 242-room hotel, and more than 200,000 square feet of retail space and 1 million square feet of office space.

Attorneys for Laguna Beach, led by Jason Holder, argue that the “project as approved is much more intense and therefore will cause greater impact than the development allowed for the 100-acre parcel under Measure W.”

“Laguna Beach has a duty to protect the public health, safety and welfare of its residents, businesses and visitors threatened with injuries caused by the county approval of the project,” the lawsuit states.

The city is seeking a ruling to overturn the board’s decision to allow the project, as well as attorney’s fees, according to court records.

Additionally, the lawsuit claims the city was not notified about the final environmental report in a timely manner. The county’s correspondence was sent to Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig, the lawsuit says, instead of to the city attorneys as requested.

Since Irvine annexed the Great Park, the county has approved nonresidential and residential uses. To date, 9,500 homes have been approved, according to court documents.