Plans for the largest housing subdivision in Glendale's history ran into trouble this week because the construction would cut into a ridge line in the San Rafael hills, making part of the project visible to nearby neighborhoods.
The Planning Commission voted 3 to 0 to oppose the developer's request to build 53 single-family houses on the ridge as part of the overall 572-unit plan. Under a version of the project approved by the city last year, the ridge would have been left untouched except for a road. However, the proposed subdivision had a partial change in ownership and design this year and requires further municipal review.
"I felt this was a double cross," Planning Commissioner Gerald Briggs said of the proposal to cut and build on the ridge in Chevy Chase Canyon, above Glendale Community College and east of the Glendale Freeway. "A lot of us supported the original plan because they promised to protect the ridge line."
Briggs is also an official of the Chevy Chase Estates Homeowners Assn., a politically influential group of nearby residents who for years fought any development on the 316 acres known as the Hensler-MacDonald tract. The association last year agreed to support a compromise that would have kept that 17 acres of ridge line mainly intact, shielding any view of the new houses.
Builders to Modify Proposal
Because of the Planning Commission's action on Monday, the project will be modified, according to Marlene Roth, a consultant who represents the builders, Homes by Polygon of Costa Mesa, and the S. T. MacDonald family of Montrose. About five homes could be cut from the plan and another dozen moved, she said.
"The intent will be to reduce or eliminate the visual impact," Roth said. "We hope this will address some of the concerns raised."
According to Roth, the plan approved last year called for an extension of Mountain Street that included a dangerous, hairpin turn. To eliminate that turn, engineers redesigned the road so it cut more into the ridge line on the eastern edge of the project, and they proposed taking advantage of that extra grading by placing 53 houses there, she said.
The changes in the development plan since last year had been scheduled for a vote by the City Council on Tuesday. But Roth requested, and received, a continuance until next Tuesday so engineers could work on further changes. The matter is scheduled for another hearing at the Planning Commission on Monday.
However, it is uncertain whether any construction on the ridge line will win city approval.
"I think any plan that contemplates ripping into the ridge lines is going to be opposed," said Briggs.
Planning Director Gerald J. Jamriska said: "I question whether any houses built on the ridge can be built not to be seen" from existing homes.
According to a city staff report, "removing a substantial portion of the ridge, as is now proposed, a large majority of the entire development would become visually exposed to all of upper Chevy Chase Canyon."
However, if all the changes made since last year are rejected, the builders could still proceed with the approved plan to build 588 dwelling units, including 136 single-family homes and the rest duplexes and town houses. The current proposal calls for 572 units, 271 of them single-family houses. The earlier proposal dedicated 213 acres to the city as open space; the more recent one sets aside 170 acres. The changes were made after Robert Hensler of Glendale, the land's co-owner, sold his share to Homes by Polygon.
The subdivision faces two other possible problems, officials said.
New Report Would Delay Ground Breaking
City planners recently said that another environmental impact report should be prepared on the project to cover changes made since last year. However, the developers oppose that idea, saying that the changes are minor and that such a report could delay ground breaking by as much as a year. Such a delay could cost $1 million in interest payments, Roth said.
Also, the latest plan eliminates one of two proposed recreation areas and reduces the number of tennis courts from six to two. City staffers say that one recreation park will not be adequate for the nearly 2,000 people expected to live in the subdivision.
If the council decides that the environmental report is not needed, grading can begin this month and the entire subdivision built within three years, Roth said.