Paradise Lost

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Think twice before developing large, controversial parcels.

May 01, 2004


The last piece of the ill-fated Ahmanson Ranch was dedicated on April 10 as Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve.

Think twice before developing large, controversial parcels.

Last November in Ventura County, Calif., protests prompted the proposed Ahmanson Ranch master plan to be turned into a nature conservancy.

Six years after a clean environmental impact report on Ahmanson Ranch, the state approved a mixed-use plan with 3,050 homes on 3,800 acres in return for a donation of 10,000 acres of open space. But protests led in 1999 to a supplemental environmental impact study, which uncovered a threatened frog and a rare flower on the property. Opposition gained steam as Hollywood celebrities joined the fray, and the developer sold the property to California in November 2003 for $150 million - $20 million less than a state appraisal.

The developer was Washington Mutual, a Seattle-based bank that inherited the land in its 1998 acquisition of Irwindale, Calif.-based bank H.F. Ahmanson & Co.

"I hate to say this, but it could be hazardous, politically and financially, to propose large projects," says Dennis Hawkins, a senior planner with Ventura County. While the Ahmanson plans ground to a halt, he says, two or three times as much acreage was approved in surrounding areas. "But these were smaller projects done incrementally, one at a time, versus one fell swoop. People don't notice the small projects, only the big ones."

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