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Tuolumne supervisors approve smaller project

SONORA -- Eighteen years after the Mountain Springs Golf Club opened south of town, the owners finally have permission to build homes around it.

The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to allow 600 homes, a 200-room hotel and other commercial space at the 1,076-acre site.

The project was reduced from the 897 homes proposed earlier this year, thanks to a compromise between the developers and critics. And it's way down from the original plan for more than 2,000 homes.

The community is expected to take 10 to 15 years to build, but the starting date is not set, said Ron Kopf, general manager at Mountain Springs.

"We are hopeful to start moving forward in the spring, but that's dependent on the economy," he said.

Tight credit and slow housing demand could delay the project, Kopf said, but he expects it to succeed even at the reduced size.

Supervisor Mark Thornton cast the dissenting vote. He questioned the economic benefits of the project and its compliance with the county general plan.

The 18-hole golf course opened in 1990. A decade later, the owners proposed to surround the links with 2,076 homes -- nearly as many as are in Sonora, two miles to the north.

The project became one of the most controversial in recent county history. Critics raised concerns about water, traffic, wildlife, open space and other issues.

Supervisors approved a 1,500-home version in 2001. The developers then gave up the permit in the face of a ballot referendum that would have overturned it.

They later returned with the 897-home plan, and the opponents threatened again to block it in court or on the ballot.

Finally this summer, the two sides worked out the 600-home compromise. Opponents agreed not to mount any more challenges.

The Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, based in Twain Harte, was among the parties to the compromise. Its executive director, John Buckley, said the group still is concerned but decided to end the battle.

"To be realistic, the alternative was to recognize that the Board of Supervisors was ready to approve a project that was half again as big," he said.

The approved project includes a "village center" with close to an acre for retail and office uses, though residents are expected to shop mainly at other Sonora-area centers.

The property will have 484 acres of open space, including the golf course, parks, ranch land and wildlife habitat.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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