Christina Heath remembers hiking and riding horses as a child on the grounds of the now-closed La Vina Hospital near her foothill home in northwest Altadena.
About 180 acres of the 220-acre site, which was a vineyard before 1909, lie within Angeles National Forest.
Horses, geese and ducks are common pets in the surrounding neighborhood, where single-family homes sit on lots averaging one-fourth to one-half of an acre, said Dr. Eric MacCalla, corresponding secretary of the Westside Residents' Assn.
Neighbors rear goats and even peacocks, and "I don't mind the coyote (that comes down from the hills) now and then," said Heath, a 41-year resident and an Audubon Society member.
But Heath, MacCalla and their neighbors are worried that a proposal for the La Vina site, calling for 350 housing units and a private school, would disrupt the wildlife and ruin the semi-rural nature of this hilly suburb.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 28, 1988 Home Edition San Gabriel Valley Part 9 Page 2 Column 5 Zones Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
The county Regional Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on a proposed housing development in Altadena on Aug. 25. The date was incorrectly reported in Sunday's San Gabriel Valley section.
Developers of the $100-million project want to replace several different zoning designations within the property with a single designation that would allow high density and construction anywhere on the site.
For example, homes cannot be built on the 38 acres in the center of the site because that area is zoned institutional. Since the hospital is no longer in use, the 38 acres should be zoned residential as are the areas south and east of the La Vina property, said Thomas Cantwell Jr., president of Cantwell/Anderson Inc., a Pasadena development company.
Cantwell, who wants to build up to six units per acre on the 38 acres, owns the property with Southwest Diversified Inc., a development firm with offices in Newport Beach and San Francisco.
According to the county General Plan, if the use of a public or semi-public facility such as a hospital is terminated, "alternative uses compatible with surrounding development in keeping with community character" may be permitted, said Forrest Key, a planning supervisor with the county Regional Planning Commission.
The hospital was closed in 1984 after La Vina merged with Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.
Most of the 140 residents who attended an emergency meeting of the Town Council Land Use Committee on July 7 opposed the development. The committee voted 8 to 1 to reject the proposed zoning change.
The Altadena Community Plan, adopted in 1986, stresses retaining existing qualities of the community. But because Altadena is an unincorporated part of the county, the final decision will rest with the Board of Supervisors.
The Town Council voted on July 19 to urge the county to limit any increase in density within the institutional zone to one dwelling per acre. That would mean a maximum of 38 dwellings could be built in the zone and only 131 units could be built on the entire property.
The Regional Planning Commission, which held a public hearing on the proposal two weeks ago, will visit the site Monday and continue the hearing Aug. 5. About 120 Altadena residents, the vast majority against the plan, attended the hearing. A staff member said the commission received 22 letters supporting the development and more than 60 against it.
Homes in the development would range in size from 1,700 to 3,000 square feet and would be clustered in four villages, Cantwell said. The homes, some of which would be detached, would sell for $225,000 to $400,000, he said.
The development would also include Ribet Academy, a private school in La Canada with 350 students in kindergarten through the eighth grade.
Jacques Ribet, headmaster at the school, said 80 of the students are from Altadena. The school has rented quarters in La Canada for six years and has been searching for a permanent site.
The school wants at least 10 acres and one of the hospital buildings. A park, which residents in the development could use when the school is closed, would be built on part of the land.
The density planned for the central 38 acres of the project, where most of the homes would be built, and the expected increase in traffic worry some residents.
"People are drawn to Altadena for the outdoors, the spaciousness. This is totally different," said MacCalla, whose organization has about 200 homeowners living west of Fair Oaks Avenue and north of Woodbury Road.
"Everyone's talking about (the proposed development)," he said. "Even people who've just moved in are jumping up and are adamant about (opposing) it."
Heath said the development would "set a bad precedent for the area. One of the reasons I live up here is the solitude."
But Alla Griffin said the community is overreacting. "I don't see density as a problem," she said, "because of the amount of acreage."
"When you build homes, it will increase the surrounding property value. I don't think people think of that."
Griffin described the emotional opposition at the Town Council Land Use Committee meeting as "mass hysteria." Griffin was the only member of the committee to support the development.
'Lo and Behold'