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Poll to Assess Views on Parks and Open Space


As part of a plan to create urban parks, preserve undeveloped land as open space and develop stringent regulations for hillside development in Glendale, the city will poll residents and hold hearings to assess public commitment to those goals, officials announced this week.

The telephone survey and hearings, designed to solicit public input during the next several months, are expected to produce disparate and sometimes opposing views of an effort by city leaders to protect undeveloped hillsides and improve city parks, officials said at a lengthy study session Tuesday.

The three-hour meeting allowed a team of consultants to brief the City Council, Planning Commission and about 30 other city officials, business representatives and homeowners on how it will develop recommendations for Glendale's land and park use.

"It's certainly a volatile issue because it deals with developers' rights as opposed to preservationists' rights," said Jean Marie Gath, a partner of Thomas Gath Pittas Inc., a consulting firm hired by Glendale.

The team is expected to recommend revisions within two months for the General Plan's open space, conservation and recreation element, which has not been updated since 1972, said John McKenna, Glendale's planning director.

A city task force will help the consultants design the hillside guidelines during that time, McKenna said. The consultants will be paid $200,000 for their work.

Gath said the consultants will consider water and other resources, fire prevention, vegetation and wildlife, housing needs, regional park services, needs of local schools and mass transit plans in conducting their study.

The team will poll 1,000 residents citywide about their use of city parks, where they want more parks and whether they are willing to pay for them. Residents also will be asked whether they support preserving undeveloped hillside land as open space by purchasing it from private owners.

The telephone survey will be conducted in English, Armenian and Spanish, the consultants said. At least three public hearings on parks and hillsides also will be held.

Controversy over hillside development has heightened in recent years as new developments, especially subdivisions, have sprouted on the city's hillsides.

The City Council in March, 1990, imposed an 18-month moratorium on hillside development until guidelines were revised. Homeowner groups have said they want new regulations to be more restrictive of development and more protective of sensitive ridgelines.

Some of the groups also have pushed for a bond measure to allow the city to buy the undeveloped hillside land and preserve it as open space. However, group leaders who attended Tuesday's meeting said the bond effort will be put on hold until the consultants finish their study.

The groups initially said a bond measure of about $80 million would be necessary to buy the remaining 1,540 acres of undeveloped, privately owned land in the Verdugo Mountains, San Rafael Hills and San Gabriel Mountains.

But because some of that land is too steep to be developed, it is likely that a much lower amount of money would suffice, said Harold Cross, president of the Glendale Homeowners Coordinating Council, an umbrella group of about 15 homeowner organizations.

"It makes a big difference to tell people property taxes are going to go up a lot or a little," Cross said.

City Councilman Larry Zarian has said he will vote to put a bond measure on the ballot if a majority of residents approve. But Zarian said Tuesday that he is not convinced that such a measure could muster enough public support.

Gath added that although homeowners may be adamant in their calls for harsher development guidelines, the city also must recognize property owners' rights.

The city faces a similar challenge in developing parks, Gath told officials. Glendale's population ranges widely in age, economic status and ethnicity, making it more difficult to design park facilities to meet disparate needs, she said.

In addition, the most densely populated areas of the city, particularly in southern Glendale, critically need park facilities but have little undeveloped land, Gath said.

Mayor Ginger Bremberg said the city has been able to develop only two mini-parks in crowded neighborhoods because the property usually is difficult and expensive to acquire.

Glendale has about 30 parks covering 246 acres, according to city planning figures.

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