LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) --Hundreds packed into Wednesday's California Coastal Commission meeting over the controversial Newport Banning Ranch plan for 400 acres in the Newport Beach area.
"It is the last large piece of unprotected coastal open space remaining in all of Southern California," said Steve Ray, executive director for the Banning Ranch Conservancy.
The area has been fenced off for oil production since the 1940s.
The Newport Banning Ranch plan includes nearly 1,400 homes, a hotel, 75,000 square feet of retail space and parks.
"We're only going to be developing less than 20 percent of the property and turning 80 percent of it into usable open space for the community," said Chris Yelich, with Newport Banning Ranch.
The Banning Ranch Conservancy would like to preserve the land as open space. The site has unique sensitive coastal species and habitats, including nesting areas for the threatened California gnatcatcher.
The developer says it would use private money - at least $30 million - to clean up contaminated soil before starting any development.
"One of our partners has done a number of oilfield cleanups," said Yelich.
But commission staff say no government agency has determined whether the developer's removal plan is suitable. Staff are recommending the commission deny the proposal.
"We don't think the project can be approved consistent with the coastal act, and more time is needed to get it right," said Dr. Charles Lester, executive director for the California Coastal Commission.
The Newport Beach City Council approved the developer's plan in 2012. The conservancy sued. The case has worked its way up to the state Supreme Court.
The conservancy says it would like to buy the land. It already has $5 million set aside. But so far, the developer has no plans to sit down to discuss that option.