Newport council approves Banning Ranch development [Updated]

Conservancy announces a $5-million gift in hopes it would lead to others chipping in to save the nearly 400 acres in West Newport as open space.

July 23, 2012|By Mike Reicher
(Don Leach )

The developers of Banning Ranch won approval from the Newport Beach City Council on Monday night after hours of protests and a surprise announcement of an anonymous donation to the land conservancy.

In a 6-0 vote, the council approved 1,375 homes, a small hotel, commercial space, parks and open space on 400 acres. Councilman Rush Hill abstained because of a potential financial conflict of interest.

“We’re pleased with the decision,” said Mike Mohler, managing director for Newport Banning Ranch LLC, the developer. “It has been a long, long process.”

While the developers would still need approval from the California Coastal Commission and other regulators, adoption from the city is key. Not only is it the first major hurdle, but Newport's approval essentially ensures future homes would get valuable Newport Beach addresses.

The ranch land is mostly unincorporated and would need to be annexed.

"It's a home run for residents of Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and surrounding communities," Councilman Steve Rosansky, who represents the Banning Ranch area, said before the meeting.


Residents and local business owners came Monday to give their own perspectives both for and against the project. The dozens who protested the development cited concerns about its effects on protected species and neighboring residents.

"The City Council has the responsibility to protect the residents of Newport Beach," said Rod Hageman, 80, who lives in the Newport Crest condominiums adjacent to the ranch.

Newport Crest residents would suffer some of the greatest impacts, such as more light and noise pollution, according to the development's environmental impact report.

About 30 people lingered in front of the City Council chambers before the 6 p.m. meeting, exchanging concerns. The Banning Ranch Conservancy had called for a large rally, bringing signs and posters.

After two hours of public comments, most opposed the project, while roughly a third of the speakers supported it.

"This is going to allow for open space, growth and vitality," said Chip Stassel, a Newport Beach businessman who praised the developer's offer to preserve or restore roughly half of the land.

The city's general plan prioritizes that the ranch be kept as open space. That scenario, however, requires the land owners to sell the property, and sufficient private and public funds have not yet been identified to buy it.

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