Dozens of Santa Clarita property owners expressed dismay Thursday over proposed changes in land-use regulations that could affect the way 4,000 parcels in the city are ultimately developed.
Most of the proposed changes, contained in a draft of the city's first General Plan, would reduce the number of housing units that could be built in some areas--particularly in fast-growing Canyon Country--and encourage commercial development instead of industrial uses.
Planners had been deluged with phone calls from property owners upset about the proposed changes since last week, when the city mailed notices of the hearing to owners of more than 4,000 properties, said Gail Foy, the city's spokeswoman.
The city also spent more than $2,000 to advertise the hearing in local newspapers.
The City Council has been holding a marathon series of 12 public hearings this month to meet a state-mandated June 25 deadline for completion of its General Plan, a blueprint for development required by the state to guide growth in the Santa Clarita Valley through the year 2010.
Under the plan, existing uses--such as a restaurant on property that is redesignated for residential development only--would be allowed to continue to operate and to expand, said Lynn Harris, the city's planning director.
For instance, it was proposed that the area under the Halfway House Cafe, a rustic Western landmark on Sierra Highway, be redesignated from commercial use to very low residential development as part of the city's effort to keep mini-malls from proliferating on Sierra Highway north of Soledad Canyon Road.
But the cafe itself, frequently used as a movie set, will be exempt, Harris said.
But if a property is vacant, or becomes vacant, the new land-use designation and subsequent zoning would apply, she said.
For example, it was suggested in the draft plan that a 1.26-acre lot in Canyon Country on Sierra Highway, about 1 1/2 miles north of Soledad Canyon Road where the owners had hoped to build condominiums, could be downzoned to permit only six single-family houses per acre.
Mike Massoodnia, a spokesman for United Investments of Los Angeles, which owns the property, said change would be an economic hardship.
"The owners could lose half a million dollars--it's a big loss," Massoodnia said.
But Harris said the city reduced residential densities, particularly in Canyon Country, because residents complained at public hearings last June that most of the multiple-family housing in the city was being built there.
"I don't think Sierra Highway should become another Wilshire Boulevard, but it doesn't need to be Green Acres either," said Carl Goldman, part-owner of local radio station KBET-AM.
The station owns 14 1/2 acres on Sierra Highway, five miles north of Soledad Canyon Road outside the city limits, and plans to move its broadcasting facilities there.
The city hopes to annex the area, and the plan suggests that the property be downzoned from commercial to residential, which would prevent the owners from moving the station to the site.
The draft plan encourages commercial development in some areas instead of industrial uses because the city depends primarily on sales tax revenues for funding, Harris said.
For instance, the land under and around Soledad Canyon Elementary School on Soledad Canyon Road and Luther Drive would be redesignated to allow commercial development consistent with nearby retail centers.
The Sulphur Springs Union School District has already leased the 9.3-acre school site to Tandam Builders for a retail shopping center and will use the revenue--at least $17 million over the next 30 years--to build desperately needed new schools, Supt. Robert Nolet said.
Many residents in a small tract behind the school oppose the change, asking the city to keep the property for school use or for housing.
But if the city allows commercial development there, the residents have asked that their properties also be rezoned so they could sell their houses to developers instead of losing money on their property investments.
"When we moved here in 1986, it was a quiet neighborhood, with white picket fences and the whole bit," said Laura Lucero, 27, who runs a decorative home accessories business out of her house.
"But now, instead of facing the school playground, we'll be right up against an alleyway where semis will drive down to the businesses."
Disgruntled property owners have the right to sue, but the courts have generally upheld a city's right to revise zoning, said Santa Clarita City Atty. Carl Newton.
"It is within the power of a local agency to zone for the benefit of the community," Newton said. "The mere fact that it may detrimentally influence the value of the property does not give rise to a cause of action."
Also discussed at the meeting was a proposal in the draft plan to concentrate high-density residential and commercial development in a downtown business district known as the River Centre.
The proposed downtown district would be situated on 2,200 acres of largely vacant property, roughly in the center of the 42-square-mile city.
It would extend along Soledad Canyon Road from the Valencia Corporate Center on the west to the former Saugus rehabilitation center site, owned by the city of Los Angeles, on the east.
John Drew, chairman of a citizens group that plans to put a growth-control measure on the November ballot, called the River Centre concept a euphemism for "massive and frantic growth."