Robert Redford Joins Fight Against Pacific Union College Eco-village

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The New York Times reports:

Robert Redford, the actor and environmental superhero, is a vocal supporter of renewable power and sustainable growth — but it seems that doesn’t include a proposal for an ecofriendly housing development in his corner of the Napa Valley.

Mr. Redford managed to raise a few eyebrows recently when he joined forces with Save Rural Angwin, a group opposing the construction of an eco-village on a 63-acre swath of privately-owned land in the wine country hamlet of Angwin, Calif.

“I believe that the citizens of Napa Valley, from American Canyon to Calistoga, care about preserving our beautiful agricultural and rural heritage,” Mr. Redford said, according to a published statement at the group’s Web site. “That is why I am happy to join the Advisory Council of Save Rural Angwin in its efforts to preserve this naturally carved land-basin from development.”

If approved by government officials, the Angwin Ecovillage would be built by Triad Development, a mixed-use developer based in Seattle, on land currently owned by Pacific Union College. College officials say they are in dire straits financially, and need to sell off a small portion of their 1,900-acre property to pay for campus services and improvements.

The plan is to construct 275 housing units, 15 percent of which would be affordable, and a 105-unit retirement/assisted living center. Key features include the installation of solar panels on every residence, wastewater reuse, an electric car-sharing program and an organic farm cooperative.

But Mr. Redford, an eight-year resident of the Valley, has been active in local efforts to protect natural areas from encroachment. And according to Save Rural Angwin, any green benefits of the development project would be “canceled out” by the increases in vehicle traffic to and from the new community.

“We support the concept of how they’re planning to build the homes,” Allen Spence, an S.R.A. spokesman and Angwin resident, said. “The problem is they’re building those homes far from any job base. That’s not smart growth.”

Mr. Redford has made a reputation on the idea of smart growth. His 6,000-acre Sundance Resort in the mountains of Utah, which includes a ski area, 95 guest cottages, 180 private homes and a vast nature preserve, is often held up as a model of green development.

“Our commitment to Sundance has always been to develop very little and preserve a great deal,” Mr. Redford explains in a Sundance promotional video.

Striking the right balance between environmental protection and land development is also the theme of recent article Mr. Redford contributed to The Huffington Post, in which he writes about about the siting of renewable energy projects on public lands.

“We can’t begin the new energy future by only saying where we can’t build renewable projects,” Mr. Redford said. “We also have to agree on where we can.”

That’s the sort of thing that puzzles Curt Johansen, the executive vice president at Triad. He agreed that car traffic would be a concern at the Angwin development, but said an environmental review of the project showed it to be of minor consequence. “It’s too small a project,” he said, adding that teachers at the college and employees at a nearby hospital were also potential owners.

Repeated attempts to arrange an interview with Mr. Redford on the topic were unsuccessful, though his publicist confirmed the actor’s opposition to the project.

For his part, Mr. Johansen believes Mr. Redford would support the project if he knew more about it.

“I don’t want to use the hypocrisy word here,” Mr. Johansen said. “I don’t think he’d be in opposition to this if he knew the whole story.”