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Developer pushing ahead with Portal Preserve

September 20, 2012

Potential property owners and project proponents will be gathering west of Lone Pine this weekend to get an early look at land that is now available in the long-delayed Whitney Portal Preserve housing development. File photo

After almost a decade of litigation and then Recession-related setbacks, a controversial housing development in Southern Inyo may finally be moving forward.
Lone Pine’s 27-lot housing development known as the Portal Preserve on Whitney Portal Road will officially open at 4 p.m. Sunday.
The project started in 2003 but was delayed by a prolonged, seven-year lawsuit until 2010, when the U.S. was at the height of one of the worst recessions on record.
To celebrate the opening of the controversial housing development, developer Jim Walters has planned festivities to which he has invited dignitaries and the public at large.
The day will kick off with a brief celebration at the Pinion Pine Sculpture (by artist Dan Dickman) on lot one (3560 Whitney Portal Rd.), four miles west of Lone Pine from the intersection of U.S. 395.
Dickman, who will display a portfolio on the development of his sculpture, will also say a word about what he sought to achieve in this massive rock and steel work.
Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kathleen New will be present, as will be Sam Wasson, long-time Inyo County planning commissioner, as well as Walters himself, who has guided the project since its inception in the early 2000s.
“The lots in this development are all two-and-a-half acres, and are subject to environmental restrictions to preserve the natural brush as much as possible,” a press release from Walters states. “With a dark-skies policy and the requirement of natural exterior colors, the future homes should blend into the pristine countryside.”
The 75-acre development is at the border of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power land to the east and Bureau of Land Management land to the west, and is the last private land along Whitney Portal Road as it ascends to the Mt. Whitney trailhead.
Nine years ago Walters purchased this acreage as half of the historic Cuffe Guest Ranch of movie fame once owned by Clarence Badger, a 1920s Hollywood director who did some filming on his own ranch.
Whether one wants to buy a lot or just see the project, Walters says that everyone is welcome to attend the 20-minute ceremony, see the sculpture, and view the clearly marked lots that all front on Whitney Portal Road. Light refreshments will be served.
When he first proposed the project, Walters told Inyo County planners that he envisioned restrictions for the development, including height for buildings, the above-mentioned dark skies for lights and setbacks to preserve views of the Sierra from the valley floor.
The Save Round Valley Alliance took issue with the project, saying it would take away from the scenic nature of Whitney Portal Road.
The SRVA hired San Francisco law firm Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger to contest the project.
The Inyo County Board of Supervisors and the county Planning Commission voted four different times to approve the project, with each vote resulting in an appeal from SVRA lawyers – twice to the Board of Supervisors, and once each to the Superior Court and to the Fourth District Appellate Court in Riverside.
In 2007, Walters lost an appeal in the appellate court when the SRVA claimed, and the courts agreed, that the Environmental Impact Report on the project inadequately addressed the feasibility of a land swap with the Bureau of Land Management that would allow Walters to build on a different piece of property.
Walters amended the EIR and again received approval from Inyo County in 2008, a decision that the SRVA did not appeal, which allowed him to move forward with his project, finally bringing him to Sunday’s celebration.

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