Homes plan worries locals

Those who fled 2008 fire say adding residents would make future evacuations more difficult.



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When the Freeway Complex fire shot down Blue Mud Canyon in 2008, it bathed the hillside behind Via Del Agua and Stonehaven Drive in flames.

The night the fire broke out, Marlene Nelson drove up into the cul-de-sac to find her husband hosing down their home, and she watched as the roof on her next-door neighbor’s garage exploded.

The Nelsons’ house was spared, but the houses on either side were not.

Homes have since been rebuilt, and the nearby hillside has recovered its green coat.

These hills are being eyed for the development of homes.

Nelson and Sharon Rehmeyer are among the most vocal of the neighbors trying to squash two developments that would add 452 single family homes on 550 acres bordering Chino Hills State Park, mostly because, they said, of what would occur if more cars tried to evacuate the area during a future fire.

“I don’t think anyone who has knowledge of the 2008 fire would ever move into here,” Rehmeyer said.

But the developer said there would be less chance of a fire there with the homes in place, and the Orange County Fire Authority would have to sign off on the emergency access before any construction starts.

The two projects are Cielo Vista, with 112 homes, and Esperanza Hills, with 340 homes, Development Mapon unincorporated county land just outside Yorba Linda’s city limits.

The projects are in their environmental-impact-study phases and still must be approved by the county; it could be years before any ground-breaking.

A plan to build such a large gated community like Esperanza Hills under the county’s oversight instead of Yorba Linda’s has been contentious in town.

The city’s general plan recommends the annexation of future development on county land that’s within Yorba Linda’s sphere of influence, which includes the hills.

Because Cielo Vista and Esperanza Hills would be built on unincorporated land, the city has limited authority; the developer  would have to get city permits, though, to tie into city streets.

Debbie Kroner, a spokeswoman for OC Public Works, said the county and city are communicating about the developments.

“The county will send project plan submittals to the city as they become available,” she said in an email. “The county will also include the city on all public-noticing activities associated with the project. The city will have the opportunity to provide comments at various stages of the process.”

Esperanza Hills developer Doug Wymore said he and his team are constantly receiving suggestions from Fire Authority officials on how to design fire breaks and emergency- access routes and adding vegetation that is less prone to burning. He pointed to fire breaks of cleared land that would be maintained by the homeowners  association as evidence that nearby residents would have greater protection.

“I’m not telling you that this makes this fire proof, because nothing will,” he said. “It will be something that’s not just a bunch of brush.”

Wymore plans to spend millions of dollars working with the Yorba Linda Water District to pipe in water from its pumping  station in Hidden Hills.

Last week, more than 100 residents went to the Travis Ranch Activity Center to hear about the Esperanza Hills project. Their comments were critical.

Sage Community Group, developing the Cielo Vista project, did not return phone calls.

Last week Steve Harris, Yorba Linda’s director of community development, announced at a meeting held by the county that the city would be recognized as a “responsible agency” under the California Environmental Control Act, so it has some discretionary power to approve or deny these projects.

The city still does not have the authority to vote up or down on the project, Harris said. That power is still with the county’s Planning Commission and the county’s Board of Supervisors.

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