A recent court decision slows plans for 1,100 homes, after judge Allan Goodman ruled against the city of Santa Clarita, which was sued by several environmental groups over project approvals for the Vista Canyon project in Canyon Country.
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The Vista Canyon housing project, proposed for the southwest corner of Sand Canyon Road and Highway 14 intersection, was billed as a mixed-use project, combining both residential and commercial areas.
Proponents called the plan a walkable, tight-knit community that will bring jobs and increase public transportation access to the east side of the Santa Clarita Valley -- while opponents cited environmental impacts as a significant problem.
“We’re very disappointed by the decision, but we understand and we’re going to address the issues mentioned by the court,” said Jim Backer, president of JSB Development, which has been in charge of developing Vista Canyon for more than eight years.
The plan met resistance from the Friends of the Santa Clara River, the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment and Homeowners for Neighborhood Preservation
The groups sued the city over Planning Commission approvals, claiming the project’s environmental impact report did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act in several areas.
Goodman’s ruling limited the scope of land that could be considered in determining environmental impacts, and also set aside the city’s approvals. The city’s Planning Commission OK’d the project in February 2011.
“At a time when we face reduced rainfall and loss of imported water from Northern California, we must not pave over water-recharge areas as this project does by filling the floodplan,” said Lynne Plambeck, president of SCOPE. “It is imperative that we safeguard these areas to ensure the future viability of regional groundwater sources.”
Vista Canyon, 185-acre project, which has been in the planning phases since 2007, plans for up to 950,000 square feet of retail-commercial space, including a 4-story hotel and a new Metrolink station, as part of the city’s first “transit-oriented neighborhood.”
The project also calls for a recycled-water plant that would be built and then handed over to the city, which would own and operate it.
The plant would make the project water-neutral in terms of usage, which water agency officials said would “reduce (the Castaic Lake Water Agency’s) recycled water capital expenditures.”
CLWA uses recycled water for non-potable uses such as the irrigation of landscaping, green belts and road medians.
On April 26, the Santa Clarita City Council certified the Vista Canyon 2011 Final Environmental Report and approved the Vista Canyon and Ancillary Annexation Areas.
Of the approximately 1,100 residential units planned, 70 were slated to be single-family, with the rest designated as multifamily apartments and condos for both purchase and rental.
A news release from SCOPE and the Friends of the Santa Clara River cites the fact that both the city and Los Angeles County officials have designated the land as a “Significant Ecological Area.”
City officials predicted that the project would have created approximately 2,000 to 4,000 jobs.
The property was annexed into the city along with Fair Oaks Ranch and the Jake’s Way area in September 2011.
“(The ruling) certainly affects our timing and our ability to start this project, which apparently is the goal of the other side,” Backer said. “We’ve had more than 80 community meetings, and we’ve received great community support for this project.”
Certain obstacles are expected in a regulatory environment as stringent as California’s, Backer said.
“We’re certainly aware that a project of this size is going to come under great scrutiny and, unfortunately, is probably going to get sued,” he said, noting the project’s environmental impact report had more than 13,000 pages. “The court found fault with two items, both of which we felt we can address with supplemental reports.”
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UPDATE: Environmental Groups Claim Win In Housing Lawsuit
Article: UPDATE: Environmental Groups Claim Win In Housing Lawsuit 
Source: Santa Clarita News
Author: Perry Smith