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Council Bars Builder From Bulldozing Top of Ridge

July 07, 1988|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | Times Staff Writer

The Glendale City Council Tuesday unanimously rejected a developer's controversial plan to slice off the top of a prominent ridge in the Verdugo Mountains in order to complete a hillside residential subdivision.

After a week of negotiations, Glendale city officials said they struck a "gentlemen's agreement" with the Gregg Development Co. of Glendale to hold off any further grading in the Oakmont View Drive subdivision in the Verdugo Woodlands area until plans can be developed to complete the project without altering a neighboring ridgeline.

The developer had proposed to slice up to 70 feet from the mountain ridge to obtain dirt to fill in a 6-acre "hole" left during construction of the subdivision. The dirt is needed to create the final 24 lots--worth at least $5 million--in the 197-lot development.

"The ridgelines are not to be touched," Mayor Carl Raggio said before Tuesday's 4-0 vote prohibiting the developer from grading outside of the subdivision boundaries. Raggio said the city staff and developers will work to find an alternate way to fill the hole.

The council's action blocks plans by the developer to use land the company owns next to the Oakmont View subdivision to complete the development, approved by the City Council in 1977. Residents protested that the additional grading would open the mountains to unwanted development and create an ugly scar visible to the Crescenta Valley and Verdugo Canyon areas.

Land Swap Proposed

The grading project included a plan by a partner in the development firm to swap a flat parcel of less than one-third of an acre to the city in exchange for almost 6 acres of city-owned land separating the proposed grading project from the subdivision. The partner, Salvatore Gangi, proposed to pay the city $190,500 in the swap--the difference in the appraised values of the two parcels.

The City Council last week unanimously rejected the exchange after representatives of homeowner groups protested the deal. Gangi had claimed he was going to build his personal estate on the mountain property, according to city records and the developer.

The swap also would have eliminated the need for public review of the proposed grading project and approval by the Planning Commission and City Council, according to city records and officials.

Peter C. Wright, a Glendale attorney representing the Deer Canyon/Oakmont Property Owners Assn., said he is concerned that City Atty. Frank Manzano concluded Tuesday that the city's Environmental and Planning Board--which consists of three city staff members, including Manzano--acted properly when it approved the proposed grading project in February.

The board waived the need for a costly environmental impact study of the project after the developer agreed to meet a number of conditions, including grading the ridge to maintain its natural contours.

The ruling meant that no public hearings would be held on the project and that grading could proceed without the approval of the Planning Commission and City Council.

City Officials Objected

Wright has argued that the city failed to properly notify homeowners of the planning board hearing.

City officials initially objected strongly to the grading project, saying it went far beyond plans approved for the subdivision. A series of reports recommended that the proposal be subjected to further environmental review, public hearings and approval from the city Planning Commission and City Council.

City officials also objected to potential liability problems that could arise on the 6-acre city-owned parcel separating the subdivision from the Gregg-owned property and grading project.

But the planning board eventually approved the grading project after developers agreed to meet a series of conditions. Only developers and their representatives were present at the hearings. Homeowners said they were unaware of the proceedings. Manzano said Tuesday that homeowners lost the right to appeal the decision within 15 days after the Feb. 11 ruling.

However, Glendale City Manager David H. Ramsay said Tuesday that the planning board ruling was "only one step in the process." He said the City Council has the final say on the project.

The Planning Commission in June unanimously recommended that the plan be rejected. Commission Chairman Gerald Briggs called the proposal "totally absurd."

The land swap and grading proposal became public in April and May after an investigation by The Times.

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