A proposal led by U2 guitarist The Edge for five mansions overlooking Malibu, Calif., has been rejected by California's coastal development agency, despite assurances by him that it would be one of the greenest developments in the world.
The California Coastal Commission voted 8-to-4 Thursday against the proposal, citing concerns that it would irrevocably damage the environment.
Staff told the commission that approving such a project would set a precedent and invite other large developments to rugged, environmentally sensitive locations.
"In my 38 years, I have never seen a project as environmentally devastating as this one," said Peter Douglas, executive director for the commission. "An environmentally sensitive person would never pick this site to develop."
About 40 people signed up to speak, a mix of supporters and opponents, including Malibu residents, environmental groups and elected officials.
Robert Steinberg spoke in support of his musician son-in-law, whose real name is David Evans, and his daughter Morleigh. They were simply trying to get their home built, he said.
"It pains me a great deal to see them demonized in the press," Steinberg said. "Morleigh and Edge have done everything known to man as far as I understand."
Following the vote, Fiona Hutton, spokeswoman for the property owners, said they would be "vigorously exploring all potential options, including litigation."
"The property owners worked diligently to develop home designs that would meet some of the highest standards for sustainability, blend seamlessly with the natural landscape and preserve the vast majority of their private lands as open space," she said.
The proposal called for five multilevel homes of up to 12,785 square feet (1,190 sq. meters) to be built on 156 acres (63 hectares) in the Santa Monica Mountains. Project designers said the homes would have the top green building certifications and the guitarist said the mansions would be some of the most environmentally sensitive in the world.
Project opponents, including the National Park Service, however, said the development would scar the expansive ridgeline. The musician and his partners had earlier appeased one of its staunchest opponents, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, after agreeing to give the agency more than $1 million, dedicate nearly 100 acres (40 hectares) to open space and provide public access to hiking trails if the homes were approved.
One sticking point was the claim by proponents that they are five separate owners each building a single home on separate lots, an argument that would make it more difficult for the commission to deny their proposals.
Commission staff said the current owners did not adequately show that the properties were individually owned.
Don Schmitz, the project's planning consultant, told commissioners there are homes at similar elevations in the Santa Monica Mountains and there is plenty of development near the site.
"We're flummoxed to understand why we're so special," said Schmitz. "There is nothing these property owners can do that they haven't already done."
In the end, however, most of the commission didn't appear to buy that argument. While some complimented the project's green intentions and overall design, which included organic features such as a home that wrapped around an existing pile of boulders, commissioners said the project was simply too big and sited in the wrong area.
Commissioner Bruce Reznik acknowledged he was a big fan of U2 and loved the project's design but felt the overall scale was just too large.
"I do believe this project has the best of intentions," he said. "Of course, my mom used to say the road to hell is paved with good intentions."