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Indecent proposal? Redford rails against eco-village

The Hollywood legend is feted as an 'environmental superhero' but he's acting like a Napa Valley nimby

He is one of Hollywood's original environmentalists, who was promoting the virtues of renewable energy and eco-friendly design long before it was fashionable. But Robert Redford takes a dim view of sustainable development in his own leafy backyard.

The Oscar-winning actor, whose decades of pioneering green activism saw him elevated to Time magazine's list of "environmental superheros," has prompted talk of pots and kettles by joining a crusade to prevent the development of a new "eco village" in northern California's picturesque Napa Valley.

Redford, 72, has joined Save Rural Angwin, a pressure group dedicated to opposing the development of several hundred "green" family dwellings, together with a retirement home, on 63 rolling acres near a secluded wine-country estate he bought eight years ago.

The 275 proposed low-energy homes could scarcely be more environmentally sensitive. They will get energy from solar panels, use recycled water, and support an organic farming co-operative. Residents will be automatically enrolled in an electric car-sharing scheme

Redford's lobby group is concerned that the development, near the village of Angwin, will destroy several fields. Its environmental benefits will be cancelled out by increases in traffic in the area, they argue.

"I believe that the citizens of Napa Valley care about preserving our beautiful agricultural and rural heritage," Redford said in a statement. "That is why I am happy to join Save Rural Angwin in its efforts to preserve this naturally carved land-basin from development."

To some, Redford's complaint hits a sharp nail on the head: many activists believe that projects like Angwin eco-village represent little more than a cynical attempt by canny developers to use "green-washing" to get permission to build homes that would never otherwise be allowed.

To others, however, the campaign he has joined is at least partly misguided: thousands of new homes must be built in California over the coming years so, while all development represents a blot on the landscape, "green" projects may eventually represent the best option for the environment.

Either way, his decision to oppose the eco-village may feel a little rum to residents of rural Utah, where, in 1969, Redford bought 6,000 acres of mountainside and proceeded to turn it into the world-famous Sundance ski resort.

Redford also invited talk of pots and kettles last month by writing an article for the Huffington Post website arguing against the nimby-ism that often stands in the way of environmentally friendly building projects. "We can't begin the new energy future by only saying where we can't build renewable energy projects," he argued then. "We also have to agree on where we can."

Meanwhile the developers of Angwin's proposed eco-village, which involves a partnership between a firm called Triad and the cash-strapped local college, responded to Redford's comments. "I don't want to use the hypocrisy word here," Curt Johansen, the executive vice president of Triad, told the New York Times. "[But] I don't think he'd be in opposition to this if he knew the whole story."