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U2 star's plans push Malibu over the edge

Efforts by The Edge, the guitarist with the rock band U2, to build five luxury and purportedly eco-friendly mansions on a plum hillside plot in Malibu overlooking the Pacific Ocean were in tatters last night after planning permission was denied on the grounds that they would cause unacceptable environmental damage.

The Irish musician, whose real name is David Evans, has been trying since 2006 to overcome opposition to the houses which he wants to build along a ridge in a 156-acre area of land in the Santa Monica Mountains. Each of the homes, measuring up to 12,785 square ft, was meant to meet the latest green standards. But that pledge failed to impress members of the California Coastal Commission which made its decision in an 8-to-4 vote late on Thursday.

"In 38 years of this commission's existence, this is one of the three worst projects that I've seen in terms of environmental devastation," Peter Douglas, the agency's executive director, said after the vote. "It's a contradiction in terms – you can't be serious about being an environmentalist and pick this location." If built, the houses would be visible for about a mile along the Malibu coast. It is also an area roamed by mountain lions.

A spokeswoman for the guitarist, who was due last night to perform with U2 in Anaheim in southern California, intimated that the next step may be legal action to get the project moving. The Edge and other would-be owners of the homes would "vigorously exploring all potential options," she said.

The setback came even after one of the most visceral opponents of the project, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, agreed in April to remain neutral on the issue in return for a promise from The Edge of a $1m donation and a guarantee that 100 acres of the land would be designated as open space for public footpaths.

The Coastal Commission refused to accept that the five homes were in fact distinct projects with different owners. If that were the case, approval might have been easier. Officials said it was clear to them that The Edge was the driving force behind all the homes, even if some were to be built for friends and associates. The Commission's chair, Mary Shallenberger, recalled the musician telling her that he and his wife could not have afforded the land without getting others involved in building homes on it. "Yes they have a right to a house but they don't have the right to the houses they've proposed," she said. "People don't have a right to build on the ridge just because it happens to be the most beautiful part to build [on]."

But the musician's planning consultant, Don Schmitz, asked why other developments have already been built in the area without hindrance. "We're flummoxed to understand why we're so special," he said, insisting that the owners had responded to every concern raised by the Commission. "There is nothing these property owners can do that they haven't already done."