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Banning Ranch developer sues Coastal Commission for $490 million

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

Developers have sued the California Coastal Commission for more than $490 million in damages for failing to approve a project that would have turned a 401-acre stretch of oil field overlooking the Pacific Ocean into a housing and retail development.

Newport Banning Ranch is appealing the commission's Sept. 7 decision to reject a plan that would have cleaned up the property to build nearly 900 homes, a 75-room resort, commercial space and a park, the Orange County Register reported.

The commission instead recommended a scaled-down version of the plan, saying the developers could build about half as many homes on bluffs farther from the ocean near Newport Beach, while leaving more room for burrowing owls and other rare species that live on the parcel.

In the lawsuit filed Friday, builders said the counter-proposal was not economically feasible and effectively "rejected any development whatsoever," according to the Register.

A commission representative told the newspaper that the agency had not yet been served and was not immediately able to comment.

While Banning Ranch has sparked debate for decades, much focus on this proposed development has centered on the burrowing owl, which has been designated a "species of special concern."

"There were an extraordinary and unprecedented amount of procedural errors, misinformation and errors in fact that did not provide the opportunity for a balanced decision," said Michael Mohler, Newport Banning Ranch senior project manager, in a prepared statement.

Newport Banning Ranch, a partnership involving an oil producer and investment and real estate companies, claimed the state agency acted out of its jurisdiction and took its property without proper compensation. It is seeking the court to maintain jurisdiction over the matter and a new hearing considering their development.

The debate over the parcel came as large stretches of privately held coastal land south of Los Angeles have dwindled. Many have been developed and environmental groups are eager to preserve coastal lands and increase access for the public.