La Habra looms as the next battleground for the so-called “builder’s remedy” strategy, with a plan by Lennar to build 530 homes on a hillside golf course off limits to development.
The Miami-based developer has filed plans to build the homes on a hillside golf course, which could bypass city review because the city failed to adopt a state-approved housing plan, the Orange County Register reported.
The move comes days before a $100 million trial over a denied housing project at the 151-acre Westridge Golf Club at 1400 South La Habra Hills Drive. The initial project called for 443 homes.
The new application has 82 more housing units than the former plan – and now includes 110 low-income apartments, enough to meet the 20-percent threshold needed for approval under a 1990 state housing law known as “builder’s remedy.”
Under the state’s Housing Accountability Act, builders can skirt city council review in cities or counties without state-approved “housing elements,” provided they include a minimum of affordable housing and comply with environmental laws.
If 20 percent of the homes are for low-income households or all the homes are for moderate-income residents, such plans must be approved even when they conflict with local zoning and the city’s general plan.
La Habra is one of 110 Southern California governments without an approved housing element, which cities and counties were supposed to adopt by October 2021. The city’s housing element is now under review.
Both Lennar and La Habra officials declined to say if the developer seeks project approval under the builder’s remedy.
But such filings don’t typically use the words “builder’s remedy” to flag what they’re doing, Matt Gelfand, attorney for Californians for Homeownership, a Realtor-backed pro-housing group, told the Register.
Lennar has battled with the city of La Habra for years over development of the Westridge golf course, once part of the former 915-acre West Coyote oil fields and now surrounded by residential neighborhoods and the Westridge Plaza shopping center.
Companies later acquired by Lennar filed a plan in 2015 to build 448 homes, including 277 houses and 171 townhomes. The initial plan, dubbed Rancho La Habra, would include more than 80 acres of open space, parks and trails. The new plan has 46 acres of open space.
The project sparked a citizen backlash that led to an open space initiative, Measure X. In October 2020, the City Council denied the Rancho La Habra plan. Measure X, which requires voter approval to rezone open space, passed with 75 percent of the vote a month later.
Lennar, which claimed the city virtually extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars for environmental studies from them, sued La Habra in January 2021, seeking $100 million in damages. The trial is slated to begin Feb. 6.
Lennar maintains the city’s denial was arbitrary and capricious and Measure X amounts to “spot zoning” because it only affects the golf course. Supporters deny that claim.
In a 2021 press release, the city argued its 2014 general plan determined the golf course would remain a privately owned open space. It argued further the city had every right to deny Rancho La Habra. All that is moot if Lennar’s new application qualifies for builder’s remedy.
— Dana Bartholomew
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