A petition signed by about 1,700 residents of La Canada Flintridge asking the city to buy 47 acres of unimproved land to save it from development has been presented to the City Council.
The residents oppose plans by a New Jersey development firm to build 29 single-family homes on the property, which it bought last year.
The petition, given to the council Monday, asked the city to preserve the property as a "natural extension" of open space that now borders the site. The property, at the end of Sugar Loaf Drive on a hillside overlooking Glendale, is used by residents for hiking, horseback riding and dog walking. Residents said the uninhabited space also protects their privacy.
City Manager Donald H. Otterman said the city is willing to purchase the property, but does not have the funds. Otterman said the city is already negotiating with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for part of the $30 million it will receive if Proposition 70, a $776-million bond issue for parks and wildlife, passes in the June primary election.
Peggy Harrison, who has lived on the border of the undeveloped property for 20 years, started the petition drive after she learned of the developer's plans.
"The land is raw and very lovely, and people are hoping to preserve that since we have so little land left like that," Harrison said.
Attorney Mark MacCarley, who represents the property's owners, Flintridge Estates Partnership, said his clients have already given the city's planning commission a proposal outlining the development plans. But, he said, the developers are willing to make the project "aesthetically compatible" with the neighborhood, including leaving a substantial amount of open space for park areas.
"A person who is considering constructing houses cannot go doggedly ahead without any type of consideration for the neighbors," MacCarley said.
A public meeting between the developers and interested residents will be held May 26 at 7 p.m. at Descanso Gardens.
The council approved an agreement Monday with a private company to conduct an environmental impact report on the property. About 60 people in the audience came to see the petition presented and to emphasize their opposition to the project.
"You can see red-tailed hawks, horned lizards and coyotes on the land," resident Liz Blackwelder told the council. "If you are early enough, you can see freeway-trapped deer. The area is an unusual spot."
Only Councilmen Chris Valente and Edmund Krause voted on the item because Mayor Joan Feehan lives in the vicinity of the proposed development and Councilman Ed Phelps, a partner in MacCarley's law firm, abstained. Councilman Warren O. Hillgren was not present.
Marvin Miles, whose home is next to the developers' property, was one of 35 residents who responded to a letter from the city staff requesting comments on the proposed development.
Miles, like most of the residents, objected to the loss of privacy and added traffic.
"We like the privacy," he said. "The only cars that bother us are our own cars."
MacCarley said that because the project had met with so much resistance from the community, his clients are willing to sell the property at a "fair and reasonable price." The developers paid "a whole lot of money" for the property, he said, although he would not specify just how much.
William Campbell, the city's director of community development, said he believes the property was bought for about $2 million.
"We will cooperate with a purchase plan if the city is capable of the intricate financing involved," MacCarley said. "If the city cannot go through with purchase, the next step is to work closely with the city, especially the residents," he said.
The purchase of the property by the city would increase its open space to 142 acres. In 1985, the city purchased for $1.5 million 55 acres of undeveloped land in Cherry Canyon to be maintained as a natural preserve. The land was bought with $1 million in state grant money and $500,000 of the city's money. The same year, the city bought 40 acres of undeveloped land from the University of Southern California for $871,000.
Three friends, headed by Solomon Mosli, a jeweler, constitute Flintridge Estates Partnership. Marvin H. Bluman and Hagop Baghdadlian are the other partners. The three have previously developed housing tracts in New Jersey and New York, MacCarley said.