Developer Wants to Rebuild Under 1998 O.C. Landslide Hill

Barry Hon of Laguna Niguel Properties LLC wants to take his chances building in a landslide area where some homes tumbled into the earth

Although residents around Via Estoril in the Orange County city of Laguna Niguel have considered it a no-go area since a 1998 landslide sent several homes careening down the hill beneath it, a new developer wants to take his chances.

Barry Hon of Laguna Niguel Properties LLC has a proposal to build condos at the bottom of the hill, where several condos were destroyed in the previous disaster, the Los Angeles Times reports. Hon is familiar with the area, because he built the original Niguel Summit neighborhood that was the scene of the collapse, as well as the condos below.

In 1985, Hon was told that six landslides—places where layers of the earth once slipped—were identified on a 900-acre tract where Hon Development proposed building more than 1,500 houses, the Times reported. Hon was told by its geological consultant that the stability levels of the six landslide areas were “generally less than acceptable,” according to newly obtained documents, and that large parts of the parcel were “probably unstable.”

By the 1990s, some of those houses were coming apart due to the land shifting beneath it—with residents reporting cracks in the walls and even driveways and sidewalks—until the hill finally collapsed.

Although settlement money was used to build a large concrete wall with tieback anchors, a buttress, and sub-drains, city officials “told residents it was highly unlikely that the land would be built on again.” The area, however, remained zoned for housing.

Now, Hon and company are proposing 22 three-story condo-townhouses at the bottom of the hill, to be called “The Cove at El Niguel.” The landslide area has been stabilized, according to Marice DePasquale, the community outreach liaison for the project.

The plan calls for shaving off part of the soil buttress that stabilizes the hillside in order to provide space for yards and a retaining wall. So far, this has been deemed safe by outside experts hired by the developer, as well as by a firm that reviewed the plan for the city.

Besides safety, part of residents’ concern is runaway development.

“It is hard to stop development in California,” Niguel Summit resident Jim Kozel told the Times. “It’s our understanding that fighting this is going to be difficult, but we have to protect the homeowners.”

In nearby Laguna Beach, more than 20 houses destroyed in a 1978 landslide in Bluebird Canyon. In 2005, another landslide in the same area took out 17 houses.

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