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Golf Course Neighbors Hail Uneasy Victory

October 06, 1985|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

AZUSA — Opponents of a plan to build 1,540 condominiums and houses on land that is now the site of Azusa's only golf course are celebrating an uneasy victory after learning that the development plan has been canceled.

The Action Committee to Save Azusa Greens Country Club has fulfilled its mission to stop the development, said its president, Charles Wilkes. But, he added, "we don't believe this is the end of the battle."

The committee claims to have collected 4,217 signatures protesting the development on a petition that has yet to be presented to any city official.

Request Withdrawn

Johnny E. Johnson, owner of the golf course and adjacent land where rock is quarried, last week withdrew his request for a general plan amendment and rezoning that would allow development of both areas. He said in a letter to city officials that his decision was the result of "destructive opposition" to his project.

Eric Olson, president of one of several homeowners' associations around the golf course, said "Johnson is a bright and energetic guy, and it would be foolish to assume he won't be back to the drawing board and be up to something else. I just hope he works something out without making everybody mad at him."

Olson, who is not an Action Committee member but took a leading role in opposing the development, said, "There'll probably be another round and I assume I'll be in it up to my armpits."

Johnson's letter said he will "weigh the various alternatives, including closing down the golf course or selling it."

150-Acre Project

Opposition to the development had already surfaced in July, when Johnson presented his proposal for the 150-acre project to the Azusa Planning Commission. It called for the construction of housing for an estimated 4,300 people on what are now fairways. In addition, the plan included commercial and industrial areas on part of the golf course, and a large recreational area around two lakes that will form when quarrying for rock and gravel comes to an end on the adjoining property in two or three years. It would take about 10 years to complete the development, Johnson said.

Committee members, most of whom live around the golf course, contend that the development would have overloaded the city's streets, schools, utilities and public safety departments. In addition, they said property values would drop with loss of the golf course, which they claim is Azusa's major attraction.

"Azusa Greens is the only good thing in Azusa," Wilkes said. "Without it, Azusa doesn't have much to be proud of. It's the reason most of us live here."

Wilkes said about 15 Action Committee members collected about 400 signatures a week as they circulated the petition at entrances to supermarkets and the local post office.

Johnson declined last week to comment on his withdrawal of the proposal. His letter said that although some Azusa citizens supported the development, "others have sought to destroy it for personal reasons."

Johnson said he is sole owner of Azusa Greens, which he and former partners built in the city's northwest corner in 1964. Houses, apartments and condominiums were built on the winding streets around it to take advantage of the parklike setting.

Johnson said Azusa Greens is popular on weekends but has few weekday players and has been losing money for several years.

The golf course's financial decline comes near the end of quarrying for rock on the adjoining property. Owl Rock Co. has leased the land since the mid-1960s and is nearing the end of its mining operations. Johnson said that when quarrying ends the land will revert to the Los Angeles County Flood Control District, to become two spreading basins for San Gabriel River water. Johnson's plan called for bike and hiking trails around the future lakes, and housing in one section adjoining them.

Course Is Buffer

William Cunningham, Azusa's community development director, said the 1964 agreement between Johnson and the city of Azusa required placing the golf course so that it would act as a buffer between housing and the rock quarry.

"But the controversy now is about density," Cunningham said. "Everybody is saying 'Let's save our golf course,' giving no thought to whose golf course it really is. I think the course is nice and I would like to see it there. But what do you do when the owner will no longer operate it?

"Johnson's options are to go for a new general plan, to continue operating it as it is, to sell it or to close it down and see what action the city would take from then on," Cunningham said.

Cunningham said that over the years, his department has been plagued with phone calls from residents around the golf course, "complaining about golf balls, mowing, sprinklers, loudspeakers, you name it. Now the surprise is, all those people have disappeared and all we hear is 'Save the golf course.' "

No Positions Voiced

Planning Commission Chairman Michael Castaneda said none of the members of that panel had voiced a position on the development.

A city official who asked not to be identified called the opposition "a political thing, with a lot of intangibles because of the City Council election next April."

Bill Acker, an unsuccessful candidate in the 1984 council election and one of the Action Committee's leaders, said he has been accused of using the opposition campaign as a political platform.

"That's most unfair," he said. "I am of the conviction that I will not run again.

"The real issue is that this is a misplaced development and we want it dead, dead, dead, and we're not sure that's the case. We'll stay formed as a committee."

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