The negotiating parties on the agenda for the Tuesday, Dec. 10, Orange County Board of Supervisors closed session meeting included a new player in the property’s saga, The Redlands Parks Conservancy, which 2017 tax documents show has Esri founder Jack Dangermond as president and board chair.
The other parties include builder Lewis Brothers Development, the city of Highland and “future purchasers.”
“The purpose of the closed session was for the board to discuss possible dispositions of the property with the county’s real estate negotiator,” said Orange County spokeswoman Molly Nichelson in an email. “Any sale or other disposition of the property will require further board action in open session.”
There were no reportable board actions on the item Tuesday. The county, Nichelson wrote, is still assessing its options.
The housing development has been stalled since June 2018 when a judge ruled against the project’s environmental report in a pair of lawsuits, citing concerns over flooding, wildlife habitat and more. A few months later the Highland City Council rescinded its approvals of the project made in 2016, and removed a referendum on the project from the November 2018 ballot, as “having an election on this point would be moot,” City Attorney Craig Steele said at the time.
Some opponents of the project had wished the city would have let residents decide whether to allow the project or not.
In an August 2018 letter to the city, James Campbell, with the Orange County real estate office, said the county was prepared to move forward with the city to amend documents in compliance with the court opinion.
Representatives from the city and The Redlands Park Conservancy were not immediately available for comment. Randall Lewis, executive vice president of marketing for the developer, Lewis Operating Corp., referred questions to the county.
According to tax documents, the conservancy’s sole activity “is to acquire and develop certain hiking and biking trails, parkland and preserve open space and habitat.”
Plans for the 1,658-acre development had included about 528 acres of natural open space.
The similarly named Redlands Conservancy is not involved in the purchase, said executive director Sherli Leonard. The group’s only connection to Harmony is a comment on the project’s first draft environmental impact report several years ago.
“Our only comment, because we don’t have any involvement in the Harmony area, is that it would change the viewscape of our (nearby) property,” Leonard said. “That’s the only time we’ve been involved.”
She said she wasn’t familiar with the other similarly-named group.
Leonard is on the board of the Crafton Hills Open Space Conservancy, which joined with other groups to bring on one of the lawsuits.
The Crafton Hills group was mainly concerned with damage to wildlife habitat and a wildlife corridor.
“That development would have effectively shut off the corridor that goes from Crafton Hills to the San Bernardino Mountains,” Leonard said.
The Crafton Hills group, she said, has been advocating for Orange County to set the property up as a mitigation bank, which, if approved, could be kept as open space and sold to developers to offset other projects impacting the environment.
She said she’d be just as happy if Dangermond’s conservancy ended up with the property.
Orange County bought the land along Greenspot Road for use as a “borrow site” for construction of the nearby Seven Oaks Dam. About 6 million cubic yards of material was excavated from part of the property to help build the 550-foot high structure.
Highland annexed the property in 2000, the year the dam was completed.
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