SIERRA MADRE — In an effort to protect foothills from overdevelopment, the City Council on Tuesday approved a moratorium on new construction in the northern part of the city while it toughens building requirements.
The moratorium will be in effect initially for 45 days but could be extended up to a year to give the city time to consider grading, traffic, open space, housing density and other issues connected with hillside development. The moratorium area extends from existing homes north to the city boundary at the edge of Angeles National Forest.
City Administrator James McRea said the intent is "to save and protect as much of the frontal range as possible from excessive development."
Lawson Martin, who is buying 100 acres in the foothills along Santa Anita Canyon Road, told the council Tuesday night that the moratorium was a reaction to "tremendously exaggerated rumors" about what he plans to do with the property.
4 Lots Proposed
He said he had submitted a proposal to the city to create four lots on three acres of flat land on the west side of Santa Anita Canyon Road and has no plans for the remaining 97 acres, contrary to speculation that he might build as many as 40 homes.
Martin, 31, a real-estate consultant who lives in Pasadena, said: "People should understand what my plans are before things get out of hand."
But Mayor Clem Bartolai, who proposed the moratorium, said he decided to seek tougher hillside standards before he became aware of Martin's proposed purchase. He said the decision grew out of a more general concern about hillside development.
Martin unsuccessfully sought assurances from the council that the three acres where he plans to build three or four homes will not be downzoned to require larger lots. Current zoning allows lots as small as 15,000 square feet.
One homeowner, Jan Maddox, told the council that she would like to see hillside lots restricted to six acres or more. Her own hillside home is on six acres, she said, and she and her husband also acquired 40 acres behind their property "because we did not want it built upon."
Maddox served on a city committee that developed hillside requirements that were adopted by the Sierra Madre City Council in the 1960s. "We came up with what for the time was a very tough ordinance," she said, "but it could be vastly improved on today."
Maddox noted that the attitude toward growth has changed.
"Anyone who was not in favor of whatever the developers wanted to do was rather looked upon as the villain" years ago, she said. But today, "the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, and now I think the developer is going to have to dance to the tune of the people who want to preserve what we have."
Ron Martinez, whose efforts to subdivide 12 acres on Sunrise Hill Lane were rebuffed earlier this year by the council, said he has resigned himself to building only one home on the property, but even this project will be blocked at least temporarily by the moratorium.
McRea said the Planning Commission has already begun studying hillside development by reviewing the city's existing regulations and studying ordinances in Claremont, Monrovia and La Canada Flintridge. One commission member said recommendations for a hillside ordinance could be drafted and submitted to the council within 45 days.