The fate of a major development project on the largest private undeveloped coastal parcel in Southern California is hanging in the balance as the Coastal Commission debates whether or not the area warrants protection under the state’s Coastal Act, which bars development on coastal areas with significant biodiversity.

The future of the Newport Banning Ranch site, a former oil field where developers want to put up hundreds of homes, is now in the hands of the California Coastal Commission. Last fall, scientists with the Commission argued that the 401-acre Orange County plot had an incredible array of unique species and habitats and ought to be protected from developers’ ambitions.

The scientists’ findings threw a road block on a major development project, and after a series of contentious debates, the county’s Coastal Commission voted in February to fire its Executive Director Charles Lester in a move that critics say is designed to make the board more receptive to approving the development.

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But that has not stopped the opposition to the project. Commission staff recently released a report which recommended approval of the proposed development, but with dozens of caveats that would reduce its impact on what scientists say is a rare ecology in Southern California.

About 1,000 feet from the Pacific Ocean, the Newport Banning Ranch is prime real estate. The current version of the development project, which does not include the staff’s recommendations, calls for 895 new homes and 45,100 square feet of retail space, a hotel, a 20-bed hostel and two clusters of oil wells. About 75 percent of the 410-acre site is lowland wetlands and cannot be developed under the state Coastal Act. This would simply be cleaned up and preserved as natural open space.

The developers include Aera Energy, which would be responsible for managing the oil wells, and the real estate companies Brooks Street and Cherokee Investment Partners. The consortium has already scaled back the size of the proposed site twice before. Even so, if it is finally approved by the Coastal Commission, it would be one of the biggest coastal development projects in years.

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The town houses, single-family homes, condos and so-called resort colony would sit on an upland mesa that offers unparalleled Pacific views from Santa Catalina Island to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. But that stunning vista also sits atop a refuge for flora and fauna that have all but disappeared from Southern California’s highly developed coastline.

In 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated Banning Ranch a critical habitat for the California gnatcatcher, an endangered species of passerine birds. Endangered San Diego fairy shrimp hatch in some of the mesa’s seasonal ponds and the wetlands along the mouth of the Santa Ana River draw the Bell’s vireo, an endangered songbird. In 2015, Coastal Commission ecologist Jonna Engel called Banning Ranch one of the only intact wetland-bluff ecosystems left in California.

If you’re in the market for a luxury home in Los Angeles or Southern California with a pristine view of the Pacific Ocean, contact one of our real estate professionals today.

  1. 3 beds, 3 full, 1 half baths
    Home size: 2,342 sq ft
    Lot size: 8,538 sqft
  2. 3 beds, 4 full baths
    Home size: 2,845 sq ft
    Lot size: 12,158 sqft
  3. 4 beds, 5 full baths
    Home size: 4,100 sq ft
    Lot size: 10,463 sqft
  4. 5 beds, 3 full, 1 quarter baths
    Home size: 3,500 sq ft
    Lot size: 6,946 sqft
  5. 3 beds, 3 full, 1 half baths
    Home size: 2,346 sq ft
    Lot size: 8,207 sqft

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(all data current as of 5/29/2017)

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