Contending that they will be unable to develop their hillside properties, Laurel Canyon property owners have organized to fight planned restrictions on small residential lots.
The Hillside Property Owners Assn. is opposing Councilman Michael Woo's plan to force developers to seek approval from a zoning administrator before being allowed to build on their properties.
Bernt Lohr-Schmidt, a Laurel Canyon homeowner, owner of several undeveloped lots in the canyon and organizer of the association, said that Woo's proposal will have the same effect as a building moratorium.
"The basic issue is preservation of our property rights," Lohr-Schmidt said. "If we have legally subdivided lots, we must be allowed to develop them. There is a tremendous effort by our neighbors to stop us from doing what we are legally entitled to do."
Other homeowner groups in Laurel Canyon have been urging Woo to seek a building moratorium to halt what they consider to be overdevelopment in the canyon. They have argued that existing zoning laws allow development without regard for impact on traffic and parking.
Lohr-Schmidt, an 11-year resident of Laurel Canyon, said that leaders of the homeowner associations are motivated by a "drawbridge mentality" in which they would like to stop additional development now that they live in the canyon.
"I could use 50 homilies to describe their attitude," he said. "But beneath all the b.s., they are saying that they don't want anymore building in the area. And the cheapest way to achieve that goal is to make the development process so rough that it will be impossible to build."
Eric H. Roth, planning deputy in Woo's office, said that he is preparing a development proposal that will be completed by mid-March.
The thrust of the proposal will be to force developers to address specific problems such as fire access or poor roads before being allowed to develop lots with fewer than 5,000 square feet, Roth said.
He said that there are many existing lots with between 2,500 and 3,500 square feet left to be developed in Laurel Canyon.
Patterned After Woodland Hills
Although the proposal has not yet been drawn up, Roth said that he will model it after an ordinance enacted to cover Woodland Hills. Under that ordinance, the zoning administrator must approve a development plan before building can start.
If endorsed by Woo and enacted by the City Council, the Laurel Canyon ordinance would be the development law until a more complete development plan can be passed by the city, Roth said.
The Woo aide said that the proposal will attempt to steer a middle course between homeowner associations that want a building moratorium and property owners who want total freedom to build on their land under existing zoning laws.
Lohr-Schmidt said that the proposal may have the opposite effect than intended by the homeowners and Woo's staff by forcing property owners to rush plans to develop their properties.
"I am not in any hurry to develop my lots and many other property owners are in the same situation," Lohr-Schmidt said. "But we may well be forced into development if there appears to be a concerted effort to stop all building in the canyon."
Roth said that he can sympathize with the property owners who have characterized their homeowner opponents as akin to early immigrants to the United States who then turn around and oppose the immigration of other groups.
"But at the same time," Roth said, "to have a complete laissez faire policy is no longer acceptable."
About a mile north of Hollywood, the Laurel Canyon area contains a mix of mansions and bungalows, many built in the 1920s and 1930s. Among the residents are actors Jack Nicholson and Leslie Nielsen and former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. Marlon Brando is a canyon property owner.