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Houses-for-Road Deal Debated for Its Effect on Hills

March 29, 1987|STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writer

It shapes up as a trade-off: A developer will build a $7.5-million road project in exchange for county permission to put hundreds of houses on a pristine ridge line in the Puente Hills.

Realigning and widening Fullerton Road will curtail congestion on the winding, two-lane arterial, county officials say.

But nearby residents, many drawn to the area by the promise of peace and privacy, say that building 744 new houses on the rolling ridges north and east of La Habra Heights will spoil their country setting. They also warn that an improved, easier-to-travel Fullerton Road will simply bring more development, and in a few years the highway will be just as unsafe and congested as it is now.

The county Regional Planning Commission on Monday will consider the proposed housing development, a 572-acre project just east of Fullerton Road that could affect half a dozen communities north and south of the Puente Hills.

Several commission members, as well as county Supervisor Peter F. Schabarum, whose 1st District includes the Puente Hills, have said that approval of the development must be tied to a commitment from the builder, Walnut-based Shea Homes, to help widen and realign Fullerton Road. Schabarum said recently that improving the road is the best--and most immediate--chance at relieving traffic congestion in the hills.

Traffic Spurs Complaints

Roads like Fullerton, Colima and Hacienda have become popular alternatives among freeway-weary commuters traveling between the San Gabriel Valley and southeast Los Angeles County. And with the increase in motorists has come complaints about noise, pollution and unsafe roads from hilltop residents.

But the county says it cannot afford major highway projects--like the realignment of Fullerton Road--so in recent years new roads have been financed primarily by private developers.

Shea Homes, which did not return phone calls from The Times, has already said it will pay for the realignment of Fullerton Road through its proposed development--beginning at the Rowland Heights Water Co. storage tanks between Sunrise Drive and the La Habra city limits and sweeping south across the ridge line in a gentle curve.

In recent weeks, Shea Homes also agreed to pick up much of the cost of extending Fullerton Road from the southern edge of its project into La Habra Heights; there it will merge with the current Fullerton Road near Bethel Baptist Church, between Chota Road and Kashlan Road.

County officials estimate that the entire four-mile realignment will cost about $7.5 million, with Shea paying about 75% to 80% of the cost. miles

If built, the new Fullerton Road would be four lanes from the Pomona Freeway on the north to the Orange County line on the south, except for a half-mile stretch in La Habra Heights from near Bethel Baptist Church south to the city limits.

Seeking to Avoid Bottleneck

Ernest A. Eggers, a planner with Willdan Associates and the city engineer, said La Habra Heights and the county have reached an agreement to widen that stretch of Fullerton Road once the realignment is under way. "Otherwise," Eggers said, "you would have four lanes of traffic narrowing to two, creating one major bottleneck."

A wider and realigned Fullerton Road, Schabarum said, "would go a long way to solving a lot of problems." Speaking to about 300 people who turned out in Rowland Heights several weeks ago to talk about the Shea project, he added, "It is the logical source of relief . . . ."

But residents in the area say the trade-off is too costly. They warn that approval of the Shea project could trigger a new wave of hillside development in an area where horse trails, one-acre lots and the expression "elbow room" are commonplace.

Wildlife biologists also oppose the project, claiming that it will endanger migration routes of deer and other animals and threaten several dense and extensive stands of rare California walnut trees.

Opposition is particularly intense in Rowland Heights where homeowners have battled Shea since the builder received an option from Shell Oil Co. to buy the property in 1981.

Homes Perched on Ridge

Originally, Shea wanted to build 1,500 homes on the site. But the company's latest proposal calls for 744 homes, most of them densely clustered along the ridge line and clearly visible from both sides of the hill. Shea also wants to develop a 15-acre shopping center on the property at the base of the hills on the Rowland Heights side. It would be built about where the new Fullerton Road would begin near the Rowland Heights Water Co. tanks.

The county Regional Planning Commission will hold its second hearing on the project Monday and possibly take a vote on whether to approve it. The meeting is at 9 a.m. in Room 150 of the Hall of Records, 320 W. Temple St., Los Angeles.

If the commission votes in favor of the project, it then goes to the Board of Supervisors for final approval.

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