Judge backs La Habra in denying Lennar project with 450 homes 

A judge has upheld La Habra’s decision to block a plan by Lennar to build nearly 450 homes  overlooking the city — but the nation’s second largest developer holds an ace in the hole.

Superior Court Judge Sheila Recio has denied a petition by the Miami-based builder to reverse the city’s 2020 decision to reject its development on the Westridge Golf Course at 1400 South La Habra Hills Drive, the Orange County Register reported.

The judge also denied Lennar’s request to overturn Measure X, a November 2020 referendum banning development of open space without voter approval.

“In sum, the evidence presented does not support (Lennar’s) arguments, and it would be improper for this court to supplant the decision of the city council,” a court minute order quoted the judge as saying.

Her court ruling may have ended Lennar’s $100 million lawsuit against the city. 

But it isn’t Lennar’s last word in the developer’s eight-year battle to build homes on the city’s 151-acre Westridge Golf Course, once part of the former 915-acre West Coyote oil fields and now surrounded by residential neighborhoods and the Westridge Plaza shopping center.

Companies later acquired by Lennar filed a plan in 2015 to build 448 homes, including 277 houses and 171 townhomes. The initial plan, dubbed Rancho La Habra, would include more than 80 acres of open space, parks and trails. The latest plan had 46 acres of open space.

In January, Lennar exploited La Habra’s failure to adopt a state-approved housing plan on time by filing what appears to have been Orange County’s first “builder’s remedy” application.

Except this time, it planned to build an even larger development of 530 homes.

The new application has 82 more housing units than the former plan — and now includes 110 low-income apartments, enough to meet the 20-percent threshold needed for approval under a 1990 state housing law known as builder’s remedy.

If Lennar applies under that rule, La Habra would become the first city in the county to face a builder’s remedy application like those filed in Santa Monica, Redondo Beach and Beverly Hills.

Under the state’s three-decade-old Housing Accountability Act, builders can skirt city council review in cities or counties without state-approved “Housing Elements,” provided they include a minimum of affordable housing and comply with environmental laws.

If 20 percent of the homes are for low-income households or all the homes are for moderate-income residents, such plans must be approved even when they conflict with local zoning and the city’s general plan.

At the time, La Habra was one of 110 Southern California governments without an approved Housing Element, which cities and counties were supposed to adopt by October 2021. The city’s housing plan won state approval, but not until last April — three months after Lennar’s builder’s remedy application and 18 months after it was due.

— Dana Bartholomew

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