A city zoning panel came to the rescue of Little League baseball players in Northridge Tuesday, at least for the time being.
The Board of Zoning Appeals rejected an attempt by a developer to reclaim the land where the young ballplayers' six diamonds are now located.
The developer, ASL Financial, had asked the board to release it from a promise to give the city 12.8 acres for use by the Little League, arguing that the requirement was an "improper exaction" by the city and illegal and unconstitutional.
But City Councilman Hal Bernson successfully argued to the board that the developer was trying to "wriggle out" of a 1986 agreement to donate the land, which Little League officials say is now used by about 1,000 children.
Bernson said he helped ASL get city permission to develop 50 more single-family houses on an adjoining property than the zoning permitted in return for an agreement to deed the Little League property to the city. ASL built 176 homes on the site, located immediately north of the baseball diamonds.
Philip Glusker, an attorney for ASL, told the board his client got no building bonus concession from the city. "My clients are not saints," he said. "But it ain't my clients who're breaking their word."
Also opposing the appeal was state Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar). "Now ASL Financial wants to deny the baseball fields any special protection as they move forward with new plans for development," Katz said in a letter to the board. "ASL Financial has a short corporate memory."
The Northridge Baseball Assn.--the Little League group--has had a lease with ASL since 1987 to operate six diamonds near the corner of Devonshire Street and Wilbur Avenue. The lease expires in 2002.
ASL currently has plans to develop the 24.3-acre site--including the baseball diamonds--but has not divulged them. In 1989, it unsuccessfully tried to gain city permission to erect a 250,000-square-foot office building on the site.
Bernson said in an interview that ASL should be allowed to build single-family homes on half the site, but only if the company lives up to the 1986 agreement to donate the other half of the property to the city for the baseball fields.
Under the agreement, the company is not required to actually donate the diamonds to the city until it seeks permits to occupy any buildings it eventually constructs on the remainder of the site.
"We have no idea what they're planning now, but as far as I'm concerned it'll have to be single-family homes--period," Bernson said.