Orange County officials said Tuesday they will enter into negotiations with the Irvine Co. to see if it makes sense to accept 2,500 acres of undeveloped land in Anaheim Hills and East Orange — once planned to hold 5,500 homes — and add it to county land as permanent open space.
Documents of the proposal last week were privately handed over to the Board of Supervisors concerning what likely would be the Irvine Co.’s last big gift of open space. The panel did not publicly discuss the land offer then and delayed its review until Tuesday’s closed session. The offer has had no public review.
“We have been presented Donald Bren’s offer of dedication and will begin negotiations,” said Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who will also lead the negotiations.
Spitzer said the county will review what it would take to maintain the land as permanent open space and whether an endowment provided by the Irvine Co. as part of the donation negotiations would be sufficient to manage the land. Spitzer said the county will also consider what the land gift could mean to recreation opportunities now around Irvine Regional Lake.
In 2010, the county received 20,000 acres from the Irvine Co. The gift included 2,000 acres of wilderness park in Black Starr Canyon. With that gift, the Irvine Co. also provided a $2.6 million endowment and The Nature Conservancy gave a $2 million endowment to manage the land. In 1990, the Irvine Co. announced what was called an “uncommon alliance” with the conservancy, an internationally prominent nonprofit conservation organization, to survey and manage the company-owned wildlands.
In 2001, the company gave 11,000 acres of open space.
In 1989, the developer worked with Orange and Anaheim to preserve 6,000 acres of land, creating regional open space from Limestone Canyon through Weir and Gypsum canyons to Coal Canyon. If the county accepts the land, 55,000 acres of the Irvine Ranch’s original 93,000 acres will be protected, natural landscape.
The land gift could add a large swath of preserved space on the northern parts of the Irvine Ranch, joining other protected natural terrain in the stretches of Weir Canyon, Fremont Canyon, Black Starr Canyon, Limestone Canyon, Irvine Lake and Irvine Regional Park.
Protected areas of the ranch land are used by more than two million outdoor enthusiasts each year, Irvine Co. officials said. People hike, bike, run and ride horseback on the ranch lands. The latest gift, like the others, would offer docent-led tours and nature classes.
In Anaheim Hills, 2,500 homes were planned to be built on the 1,100 acres of rolling hills, oak woodlands, rocky parts and native grasslands among canyons. The land, within the city of Anaheim, is bordered on the north by the 91 and is alongside the Eastern Toll Road.
In the East Orange area, a plan was approved allowing 3,000 homes on hills, including ridge lines and meadows. The 1,400 acres are east of the 241 and alongside the southeastern shore of Irvine Lake.
County staff will do a cost analysis and make recommendations to the board.
“I’m very excited about having a significant and generous gift given to the county by Mr. Bren,” Spitzer said, speaking independently of the board.
“It takes significant development already entitled off the table,” he said. “That’s great for our county but I also need to know financially if the gift makes sense.”
Written by: By ERIKA I. RITCHIE / STAFF WRITER for OC Register