Photos by Stephanie Rivera.
Environmentalists in favor of preserving a large privately-owned undeveloped coastal property in Orange County gathered outside the Long Beach Convention Center Wednesday, where the California Coastal Commission was scheduled to discuss the issue.
The commission eventually granted a one-time 90-day extension to backers of a redevelopment plan for the 401-acre Newport Beach Banning Ranch property.
The proposed development would include 1,375 residential dwelling units, 75,000-square-feet of commercial space, and a 75-room resort hotel, according to the Banning Ranch Conservancy.
“It would have a very bad effect on the environment for a number of reasons,” said Dr. Terry Welsh, president of the conservancy. “It would destroy a lot of important habitats [and] its also an area where prehistoric Native American societies used to be.”
Welsh also mentioned the project would cause traffic and noise for nearby residents.
During the meeting, the Coastal Commission's staff recommended rejection of the proposal.
Charles Lester, the commission's executive director, said the plan needs to be re-worked.
"We don't think the project can be approved consistent with the Coastal Act, and more time is needed to get it right,'' Lester told the panel.
Developers insisted, however, that adequate plans were in place to prepare the oil field for development.
The project includes a large amount of open space, said Chris Yelich, a principal with the Brooks Street development firm behind the project.
An informational pamphlet distributed by the conservancy stated the proposed density is "four times greater than any coastal development in decades."
Banning Ranch is located along Pacific Coast Highway at the mouth of the Santa Ana River, between Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, and Huntington Beach.
The site is home to hawks, herons, burrowing owls and the largest coastal population of Coastal Wrens in Orange County, the conservancy's pamphlet stated.
It also includes vernal pools, which contain the threatened San Diego fairy shrimp, according to conservationists.
Welsh said the conservancy’s plan is to purchase the property from the owners and preserve it as open space.
“There’s just [an] invaluable amount of material there and stories to be learned and once you build a gigantic project, it’s gone,” Welsh said.
City News Service contributed to this report.