Despite vote, Banning Ranch development could still be built

Protesters on Wednesday packed the Coastal Commission meeting, where commissioners voted to reject the controversial Newport Banning Ranch project.
Protesters on Wednesday packed the Coastal Commission meeting, where commissioners voted to reject the controversial Newport Banning Ranch project.

Wednesday's late-night vote at the California Coastal Commission rejecting a controversial development project along the coast of Newport Beach does not mean that project is gone forever.

Just a few minutes after the Coastal Commission vote, right after the raucous 10:30 p.m. celebration broke out, project opponent Steve Ray of the Banning Ranch Conservancy pointed out that we likely haven't heard the last of the Newport Banning Ranch development project.

"The project isn't necessarily over," Ray said. "I think now everyone has a chance to take a breath and reconsider everything." Ray said he hopes commission staff members will rethink their recommendation to approve a even a small, scaled-down version of the project.

According to Noaki Schwartz, spokesperson for the Coastal Commission, after waiting six months the developer can reintroduce some form of a development plan.

"The applicant can reapply with a new project," she said, "and they'd have to repay their filing fee, which in this case would be about $250,000 or more."

That’s a possibility, said Adam Alberti, the developers' representative, along with other options.

"It's too soon to say what our next steps are, but we're not ruling anything out," Alberti said. "Litigation is certainly an option."

And there's one wild card if the developers do re-submit their coastal development permit application.

Terms for two members of the coastal commission will be over within six months, and they'll be replaced. And another five commissioners come up for reappointment soon after, Schwartz said.

"So you would be looking at a very different makeup of a board," she said.

Environmentalists have expressed concern that next year's new board might end up being more amenable to approving large developments, such as the one at Banning Ranch.

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