Glendale City Council members rejected a controversial proposal Tuesday to swap nearly 6 acres of open space in the Verdugo Mountains to a developer for a small lot that abuts the Ventura Freeway.
The 5-1 council vote against the swap came after an hourlong hearing attended by more than 100 homeowners, many of whom opposed the trade.
Homeowners also objected to a related proposal to cut away as much as 70 feet from a prominent ridgeline in the Verdugo Mountains next to the city parcel. That issue was not resolved and was scheduled for further discussion next week.
Under the terms of the proposed swap, Salvatore Gangi, a partner in Gregg Development Co., would have exchanged a flat lot of less than one-third acre he owns at the westbound Glendale Boulevard on-ramp of the Ventura Freeway for the city's 6 acres.
The city would then have approved a zone change enabling Gangi to build one home on the land, and Gangi would pay the city the difference between the appraised value of the properties. An appraiser calculated that to be $190,500.
The swap became public after it was listed as a routine "consent item" on an April City Council agenda. Although they later changed their minds, several council members initially favored the trade because they wanted to build a mini-park on the flat, downtown site.
City officials and a Gregg Development representative disagreed Tuesday over whether the City Council also has the power to block the proposed grading project, which was approved in February by the city Environmental and Planning Board.
The swap and the grading proposal are related because Gregg Development had planned to use a small portion of the 6-acre parcel in its massive grading effort. Gregg Development planned to scrape off a portion of a ridge of its property that divides the Oakmont Woods and Oakmont View neighborhoods. The proposed grading would include a corner of the six-acre property.
The graded soil would be used to fill a large debris basin created during construction of Oakmont View. Only by filling the hole could Gregg Development build another 24 residential lots, worth at least $5 million.
Council to Decide
Glendale City Manager David H. Ramsay told the council he is confident the city council has final say over whether the developer can slice into the ridge.
"Even though the Environmental and Planning Board approved it, the grading permit cannot be issued until the City Council approves it," Ramsay said.
But Jarrett S. Anderson, attorney for the developer, said the grading proposal approved by the Environmental Planning Board was for the private property only and did not require City Council approval.
Council members asked Assistant City Atty. Dennis Schuck to research the issue for discussion at a council meeting next week. Schuck, who is filling in for vacationing City Atty. Frank Manzano, said he was unable to give the council a firm legal opinion because he was not provided with the details of the February agreement, which was made by three top city officials who make up the environmental board.
During the hearing Tuesday, seven residents and an attorney representing a homeowners group spoke against the project.
Resident Jack Hilts drew cheers from the audience when he said the council "had a moral responsibility to put a public spotlight" on the initial meetings between the city Environmental and Planning Board and the developer.
"California does have an open meeting law," Hilts said. "And it does not allow elected officials to give employees the right to decide . . . subjects that impact on the quality of life in Glendale."
Resident Al Hoffman questioned the council's judgment in considering trading open space for a parkland next to a freeway.
"For goodness sake, who would use it?" he asked.
Peter Wright, a lawyer representing the Deer Canyon/Oakmont Property Owners Assn., told the council that the Environmental and Planning Board ruling violated state guidelines requiring the council to consider the "cumulative effect" of the project.
"The law requires you consider the entire project," he said. "You cannot consider the zone change and swap in a vacuum."