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Neighbors Divided Over Benefits, Side Effects of Planned Topanga Resort

October 17, 1985|JUDY PASTERNAK | Times Staff Writer

Along the northern edge of Topanga Canyon, about three miles south of Woodland Hills, are 257 acres containing a ridge, a creek and rolling meadows dotted with hundreds of oaks.

Architect Christopher R. Wojciechowski sees that land as the perfect site for his proposed Montevideo Country Club: a $100-million resort complex that would include a golf course, a 106-room hotel, a 15-court tennis club, an equestrian center, more than 200 luxury homes and a heliport.

Wojciechowski thinks his project would provide new opportunities for recreation in the Santa Monica Mountains, as well as a substantial tax base for the county.

Some of the residents to the north, in the Viewridge Estates subdivision and in the Top-O-Topanga mobile home park, agree with him. "We must support desirable development to prevent undesirable development," wrote Joan Cooper, president of the Homeowners Assn. of Viewridge Estates, in a letter to her neighbors.

But many of the residents living to the south of the property, further into the canyon, are afraid that the Montevideo Country Club would turn their rustic retreat--where homes nestle on leafy lots, barely visible from the winding road--into another slice of upscale suburbia.

Living With Nature

"Now we hear birds, coyotes howling, squirrels fighting around the trees outside your bedroom windows," said Virgil Mirano, a 48-year-old photographer who has lived in the canyon for two years. "This (project) would have street lights and traffic. It would represent more of a valley existence."

Both sides will have a chance to express their views at a public hearing today and another Dec. 4 before the Regional Planning Commission in the Hall of Records in Los Angeles.

The county general plan allows for light agricultural use and about 100 single-family houses on the canyon property.

The Planning Commission staff will recommend approval of changes permitting 136 single-family homes, the golf course and a proposed country market that would include a grocery store, a bank, a gas station and other neighborhood shops.

"By implication" the staff suggests denial of the hotel, the heliport, the equestrian center and the tennis courts, said Jack Garretson, the Planning Department supervisor responsible for the report.

"I think it's a beautiful concept but it's in the wrong location," Garretson said. "He's got too much there." The proposal as it stands would create too much traffic and noise for the surrounding community, he said.

The Montevideo proposal also includes 90 condominium units, which Garretson would not recommend for approval. Wojciechowski said he intends to delete the condos from his plans and build 90 more single-family homes instead.

That change "might create some new interest on my part," Garretson said. "Single-family homes would be more typical of the area."

Still, Wojciechowski is unhappy with Garretson's conclusions.

"No, that will never work," he said in an interview Tuesday.

Without the hotel, he said, he cannot afford the golf course.

"It's going to cost $10 million to build that golf course," he said. "I cannot raise that kind of money from memberships and dues."

Jan Moore, president of the 500-member Topanga Canyon Town Council, is also dissatisfied with the staff recommendation, but for a different reason.

"We'd be against the golf course," she said. "If he gets the zoning for it, he could come back at some future date and say it's not working out so he wants to build houses."

Wojciechowski said he will not exercise the option he has to purchase the canyon property if the entire proposal is not approved.

But he is determined to win complete approval. If the Planning Commission follows its staff recommendation, he plans to appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors.

Providing a Bus

The stakes are high enough that he is providing bus transportation to today's hearing and lunch afterwards for Viewridge Estates residents who back his plans.

"This project's going to be built," he said. "This is something I've wanted to do for a long time and I'm going to do it. It's a community unto itself and it's well located."

He filed the application for the project in 1982, according to county records. "We had to wait out the high interest rates; we had some more work to do on the environmental impact report. But now I'm ready to do this," Wojciechowski said.

He said he would like to start grading in April and finish the golf course and hotel in 1987, with the houses being constructed in phases over the next seven years.

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