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Study Waived; Grading on Ridge Seems Certain

May 19, 1988|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | Times Staff Writer

After months of private negotiations, Glendale officials have waived an environmental review of a hillside grading project that would lower a prominent ridgeline in the Verdugo Mountains.

Although ridgeline protection has long been a volatile issue in town, the grading project planned is expected to be approved without public scrutiny.

A plan under consideration to swap a large parcel of city-owned land for the developers' land also is crucial to the grading project, according to public records and city officials, because it would eliminate one reason for public hearings and the approval of the Planning Commission and City Council.

The Gregg Development Co. of Glendale and its principal partners, John Gregg and Salvatore Gangi, plan to cut as much as 70 feet from a prominent mountain ridge, a portion of which crosses city land.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 26, 1988 Home Edition Glendale Part 9 Page 3 Column 1 Zones Desk 2 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
A May 19 article on a proposed grading project in the Verdugo Mountains incorrectly reported the location of a campaign kickoff party given by developer John Gregg for Mayor Carl Raggio's initial bid for election to the City Council. The 1985 party was not held at the developer's home but at the Verdugo Club, a private social club in Glendale. As reported, it was paid for by Gregg.

The dirt is to be used to fill a 6-acre depression created during construction of Gregg Development's Oakmont View. The development company then could build on the subdivision's last 24 lots, which would be worth at least $5 million.

The grading would remove 25,000 truckloads of dirt from a ridge separating the Oakmont View and Oakmont Woods neighborhoods and open the mountains to further development. The result would be visible from the Crescenta Valley and the Verdugo Canyon, according to city reports.

City officials agreed to the grading project in February after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, in which the developers agreed to terms designed to lessen the damage the grading will cause. The most important provision, officials said, is that the developers retain contours resembling a natural ridgeline.

Previously, all three members of the city's Environmental and Planning Board, which determines whether an environmental study is required, had called for further review, including public hearings and action by the Planning Commission and City Council.

The land swap is related to the grading proposal because the city land abuts the hole on the developer's property and would provide some fill dirt. Gregg maintains that the grading does not depend on approval of the land deal, because less than 5% of the fill dirt would come from the city site.

Giving Up 6 Acres

However, city officials have indicated that they would be hard-pressed to approve any grading on the city's property, given potential liability problems.

In the swap, the city is to give up six acres in the mountains for a flat residential lot of less than one-third of an acre at the westbound Glendale Boulevard on-ramp to the Ventura Freeway.

Gangi bought the lot more than 10 years ago and had planned to build an office complex there. City officials have turned down two projects he proposed because of neighbors' opposition.

The city's land overlooks the Crescenta Valley in an area where houses sell for $800,000 and more. It has views of the city, the Glendale and Foothill freeways in the distance and, occasionally, a red-tailed hawk seeking prey.

City officials said they are happy to get the freeway property because they plan to turn it into a mini-park. They say they consider the deal fair.

'Mutually Beneficial'

"The swap will be mutually beneficial," James Rez, then city manager, said when the exchange was revealed in April. Rez said the city land, acquired in another exchange about 25 years ago, "is a problem piece of land for us from a maintenance viewpoint, drainage and all sorts of things."

Gangi has agreed to pay the city $190,500--the difference in the appraised values of the two parcels: $105,000 for the freeway lot and $295,500 for the mountain property.

City officials said Gangi plans to build his private estate on the mountain property.

However, Gordon Stewart of Western Cities Appraisal, who evaluated the two properties, said he was told by city engineers and the developers' representatives that the mountain property "is crucial" to filling the hole in the Oakmont View subdivision. "That was the intended use, to fill in the lower elevation," Stewart said.

The city never planned to use the property except as open space. But a staff report in February voiced the fear that grading in the adjoining subdivision would encroach on it, creating a fire hazard, maintenance problems and ugliness.

With the proposed trade, maintenance and liability will become the responsibility of the new owner, city officials said, and the grading would not have to go through a hearing process.

The project would open access to development in the Verdugo Mountains on land owned by Gregg above the Oakmont Woods neighborhood west of Montrose, officials said. Residents there say further development in the mountains has long been expected, but city officials predict that any new project will be controversial.

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