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Vote on homes by Bolsa Chica is postponed

Coastal Commission will take up the issue again pending clarification on mitigation efforts at wetlands.

June 13, 2012|By Mona Shadia

The California Coastal Commission on Wednesday postponed its vote on a housing project it once rejected because of its close proximity to protected habitat near the Bolsa Chica Wetlands.

Shea Homes, a 50-acre, 111-home project at 17301 Graham St., north of the Wintersburg Channel, was initially approved by the Huntington Beach City Council in 2002. But a decade-long battle between the developer and environmentalists has kept it from taking shape.

The commission elected to continue the issue pending clarification on mitigation efforts at the wetlands.

Siding with the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, which argues that Shea Homes will have grave environmental impacts on the wetlands, the coastal commission in October voted against the project.

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The decision led Shea Homes to sue the commission for $55 million, but the case never went to trial and was settled privately.

Part of the settlement required the commission to bring back the project, as it was presented in October for a vote.

The only difference, however, are the guidelines under which the commission planned to consider the project this time around.

The commission used the guidelines of the California Coastal Act, which sets the rules on development in the coastal zone, when it considered and ultimately rejected Shea Homes last year. This time, the commission planned to use the rules of the Local Coastal Program, which is specific to Huntington Beach, to make its decision.

The coastal act allows each jurisdiction to develop its own coastal program specific to its needs. All local coastal programs must align with the guidelines of the statewide act and be approved by the coastal commission.

Although the commission planned to use different guidelines, the land trust doesn't see the Shea proposal differently.

"We see conflicts," said Councilwoman Connie Boardman, who is also the president of the land trust. "We see reasons to deny the project."

Given its location, Shea Homes will have to build what's called a Vegetated Flood Protection Feature, a levee-like barrier to protect the homes in case of a flood.

Shea Homes must also comply with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Floodplain Management Requirements, according to the coastal commission's staff report.

To provide the necessary flood protection, the barrier will be built between the bluff on the western edge of the project and the Wintersburg Channel on the south, the staff report said.

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