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Supervisors OK Project in Altadena : Housing: La Vina community group opposes the 272-home development on archeological and environmental grounds.


Developer Tim Cantwell whooped and clapped his hands Thursday as the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved his La Vina project, a plan to build 272 homes on 220 acres in Altadena located mainly in rural Angeles National Forest.

But opponents, who have fought Cantwell's proposal for 3 1/2 years, only muttered.

"It isn't over yet, buster," one woman said.

Indeed, representatives of Friends of La Vina, the group opposed to the project, say they intend to file a lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors within a month.

Deborah Bucksbaum, an attorney for the group, said the board should have required archeological and environmental surveys before approving the project, instead of allowing the surveys to be undertaken before the start of construction.

"California law is so strong on this point that this project is sure to end up in court before these surveys are done," Bucksbaum warned the board.

The warning did not persuade the board, which gave unanimous approval, with Supervisor Deane Dana absent. Still, the decision was not an easy one, particularly for Supervisor Michael Antonovich, in whose 5th District the project lies.

"This is a difficult case, one of the most difficult cases we've had for our district since I've been supervisor in 1980," Antonovich said.

Part of the difficulty arose over the twists and turns the project has taken over the years.

In 1986, Cantwell, of Cantwell-Anderson Inc. of Pasadena, purchased the site on the northern end of Lincoln Avenue. It contained a former tuberculosis sanitarium on land zoned for institutional uses. Most of the remaining land was zoned for low-density residential use.

Cantwell formed a partnership with Southwest Diversified Inc., of Irvine, and requested a change in the zoning and community plan to allow construction of 360 housing units, including townhouses. But, faced with opposition to the proposal's scale, Cantwell redesigned it, eliminating the multifamily housing and reducing the number of units to 272. He also set aside 108 acres for open space.

In addition, Cantwell worked with some area residents to propose a job training and employment program in cooperation with the Pasadena-Foothill Branch of the Los Angeles Urban League and the Pasadena Skills Center. Improvements at Loma Alta Park were also proposed.

Cantwell also busied himself courting the community with barbecues on the property and chartered bus rides for supporters to hearings before the Board of Supervisors.

The opposition countered with Indian artifacts--an ancient Gabrieleno Indian grinding stone found in July on adjacent property that opponents said justified a thorough archeological survey.

At Thursday's board meeting, they also countered with a letter from the National Forestry Service indicating interest in the La Vina site as a home for a forestry service administration building. The letter allows Rep. Edward Roybal (D-Los Angeles)--who earlier this year said the land should be used for a public purpose--to pursue government funds to buy the land for the forestry service, Bucksbaum told the board.

Bucksbaum also raised concerns regarding density, traffic and the environment.

Antonovich responded by saying that county planning staff reports indicated the density of 2.6 houses per acre was lower than nearby developed areas. The reports also said the project would cause the surrounding street system to operate at only 70% capacity and that archeological and biological surveys undertaken before construction would ensure that no artifacts or endangered species were destroyed.

In addition, Antonovich said the developer had pledged to provide $50,000 to help relocate the Hawkins House, a 100-year-old home in Altadena sought for use as a town hall.

"The proposal does have support from a variety of groups," he added, referring to proponents of the job training programs.

The fate of the Ribet Academy, a private school in La Canada Flintridge proposed for relocation on 11 acres in the center of the project, was left undecided, however.

The Planning Commission, in its report to the board, recommended that the acreage be used for open space instead. But the board decided to hear the matter in detail when the developer returns for a conditional-use permit, the next step required before construction can begin.

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