The Tejon Ranch Co., a 156-year-old cattle and farming concern, recently announced it is moving full-steam ahead with a new 4,000-acre town planned for grazing land atop the Grapevine in North L.A. County.

Company officials signed a joint venture deal with three homebuilders, and said they've begun planning in earnest with the hope of completing master plans and an environmental study by year's end.

There's just one problem. L.A. County has a policy of not approving projects that aren't contiguous to existing urban areas, and one high-ranking planning official described the Tejon Ranch plan as the kind of "leap-frog development" that county planning commissioners and the Board of Supervisors are likely to oppose.

"You're talking about an area that is 30 minutes north of Castaic on a good day and 45 minutes to an hour from Santa Clarita," said Donald Culbertson, who heads the division for the county Regional Planning Department that would oversee the project. "At this point, it's rather premature to entertain something of that nature in that location."

Culbertson said the developers have yet to approach his office, but if they had, he would have shared his concerns with them.

John McGee, a vice president with Pardee Construction Co. who is overseeing the project for the venture partners, said his group did meet with Supervisor Mike Antonovich's office and some lower-level planning officials, and those officials expressed similar concerns about the project.

However, it's common for government officials and others to express initial concern about a project only to come around when they learn the details about how it will work.

"We expect every time you go and start to master plan in any area, the jurisdiction and people in the area will have concerns about the quality of development and absorption," McGee said.

McGee conceded it may seem premature to push L.A. County's development out to the Kern County border, but naysayers said the same thing about Orange County years ago.

"All you have to do is look back in the history of Southern California," McGee said. "Most of us can remember when Mission Viejo started and how people considered that way out there. When Valencia started, people considered that remote."

Tejon Ranch Co., whose stock trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol TRC, plans to develop the as-yet-unnamed community along Interstate 5, just north of Highway 138 near Quail Lake. The company last month announced it had formed a joint venture partnership with three other developers to build the community: Pardee, Lewis Investment Co. LLC and Standard Pacific Corp.

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