With county supervisors approving the first phase of Newhall Ranch on Tuesday, officials at Newhall Land Development Inc. expect to start building homes for the development’s first phase as early as 18 months, a spokeswoman for the long-standing local land developer said.

On Tuesday, three of five Los Angeles County supervisors approved three recommendations the development planned for the southwest corner of Highway 126 and Interstate 5 along the Santa Clara River.

Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich, Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas voted in favor or all three recommendations, while Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky abstained.

“We’re very pleased with the Board of Supervisors finally approving the tentative tract map,” Marlee Lauffer, vice president of marketing and communication for Newhall Land, told The Signal on Tuesday.

“It’s certainly been a long process that has been thoroughly reviewed, analyzed and commented on,” she said.
Asked when shovels were expected to go into the ground for homes built as part of Newhall Ranch’s first phase of development, dubbed Landmark Village, she said within the next two years.

“We’re guesstimating that within one and a half years to two years, we can begin to start to develop,” Lauffer said.

Before Tuesday’s vote was held, a handful of Santa Clarita Valley residents expressed concerns about the project’s impact on water and air quality and about its environmental effect on riverside birds and wildlife.

Among those opposed to the project who spoke was local environmentalist Lynne Plambeck, who told supervisors she was concerned about worsening air quality and a widening plume of contaminated groundwater.

Antonovich asked Newhall Land officials about water and air quality.

Newhall Land President Greg McWilliams directed his attention to water and air experts consulted by the developer in preparing the environmental impact report.

Satisfied with the answers given by company officials to questions about environmental impacts, the majority of supervisors voted in favor of the development.

“We believe approval of this project was a mistake,” Plambeck said in a written statement issued after the vote and on behalf of the local environmental group Santa Clarita Organization for Planning The Environment.

She said with homeowners facing foreclosures, some housing projects approved but not built and others only partially built, “this project approval presents an unnecessary burden on our community,” she said.

A gray-haired woman who identified herself to the board as a Newhall resident echoed concerns about the developer’s ability to see a large project through to completion.

“If you have a builder who doesn’t have any financial backing, or strong financial backing, they can walk away from a project and leave roads incomplete and a leave a real mess that someone is going to have to step in and fix the problem,” she said.

“We have to make sure the finances are in place,” she said.

Antonovich asked McWilliams about Newhall Land’s financial stability.

“On July 1, 2009, we emerged from Chapter 11,” McWilliams said. “During the time we were in bankruptcy, we moved forward with development and re-invested about $40 million at the time and have invested (more) in restructuring.”

He told the board that Newhall Land has continued its development of “critical projects on Interstate 5” at Magic Mountain Parkway and Hasley Canyon Road.

“Our track record is continuing to build infrastructure,” he said.

The project calls for developing 422 lots on about 295 acres. The lots would mean 270 single-family homes, 744 condominiums and 430 apartments, along with 16 commercial lots.

The plan for Landmark Village, Phase 1 of Newhall Ranch, also calls for 119 lots for open space, plus at least one fire station, park and school.

Newhall Ranch is a master-planned community from the same firm that planned and developed Valencia.

After its projected 25- to 30-year construction period, it would be home to more than 20,000 residences west of Interstate 5 and south of Highway 126.

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