ARCADIA — Despite spirited opposition from nearby residents, the City Council has approved construction of 22 luxury homes on the last parcel of land that can be developed in the city's foothills.
The council voted 3 to 2 to allow owner Charles Bluth to proceed with the second phase of Whispering Pines Estates. The first phase of the gated community, in a mountainous area zoned for single-family dwellings in the northern portion of the city, features 24 two-story, Tudor-style homes in the $500,000 to $1.5-million price range.
More than 100 people attended a four-hour public hearing in City Hall chambers last week before the council voted to approve the project, which had won Planning Commission approval in September. Council members Charles Gilb, David Hannah and Don Pellegrino voted for the project; Dennis Lojeski and Mary Young voted against it.
All of the council members said they liked the project. But Young said she voted against it because of concerns about the lack of a secondary access road and Lojeski said he objected only because of a height limit imposed on four of the lots.
Gilb said it would not be fair to restrict the property so that Bluth cannot develop the land.
Lojeski said that he voted against the project only because of a restriction placed on the development by the council requiring that the lots with the highest elevation be limited to one-story homes.
"For many years there were no trees on the hill--it was a brown hill and that was an eyesore," Lojeski said.
"Now with Phase 1 we have a green hill. And during Phase 1 Bluth accommodated himself to the city's needs and wishes."
One of the most vocal opponents, Gary Cogorno, the leader of Save the Ridgelines Committee, had said before the meeting that if the council approved the project his committee would consider an effort to gather enough signatures on a petition to qualify the issue for a referendum election.
In a similar dispute over hillside property five years ago, the Monrovia City Council approved plans for the Gold Hill subdivision, which was bitterly opposed by foothill residents who objected to the high density and land grading involved.
After opponents had gathered enough signatures to qualify the issue for a referendum election, the council reversed itself and voted to call a special election on the issue. Two-thirds of the voters cast their ballots against the plan. The council then approved a revised plan, approved by the opponents, calling for much less density.
At the Arcadia meeting last week, Cogorno presented the council a petition signed by 300 residents asking that the city reject proposals for the second phase of Whispering Pines Estates. Plans call for $1-million homes.
Although opponents agreed that Bluth should be allowed to develop his property, they objected to what they say will be an unsightly 36-foot-high water tower to be built at the highest point of the hillside. They also objected to the land grading and the fact that there will be only one access road to the subdivision, a long cul-de-sac that extends from the existing development.
However, Bluth said he plans to build an emergency road so fire equipment can get to the tract, which is north of the first phase of Whispering Pines. Land to the north of the site is vacant. Many of the opponents of the plan live west of the site, and land to the east lies within Monrovia's boundaries and is vacant.
The city of Monrovia, where the water tank will be visible, and an attorney representing Nick Pokrajac, who owns 28 acres of hillside land in Monrovia adjacent to Bluth's property, also opposed the project.
Pokrajac's attorney, Randall Stoke, said his client, whose land includes 14 acres that could be developed, objects to the project primarily because of the water tower. In exchange for one of Bluth's lots, Pokrajac has offered to locate it in a canyon on his land, where it would not be visible to either Arcadia or Monrovia residents.
Negotiations between the two have broken off, Stoke said, and some Arcadia and Monrovia officials say Bluth and Pokrajac are longtime antagonists and it seems unlikely that they will reach an agreement.
In an interview before the meeting, Bluth said that he had not expected much opposition.
"There was little opposition to the first phase so I am surprised at this," he said.
However, Cogorno said that an earlier developer had proposed a much higher-density project for the first phase of the site, and residents were relieved when Bluth brought the property and proposed a development with fewer homes.
"Bluth was well received when he proposed his development of well landscaped, quality homes," Cogorno said. "Also the homes in Phase 1 are lower (on the hillside) so those in Phase 2 will have much more impact on our views. I don't want the water tower as a landmark."
The council approved the project without some of the lot and grading stipulations imposed by the Planning Commission when it approved the project. But it went along with the commission's condition that homes on four of the highest lots be restricted to one story or 20 feet high.
A number of people at the meeting spoke in favor of the project, saying the development would increase property values and business in the area.
Lojeski said there are other long cul-de-sacs in the city and that there is a water tower in the Highlands, another hillside development in Arcadia.