In response to an environmental impact report released last week, angry Glenmore Canyon homeowners began mustering their forces this week to oppose plans by a developer to flatten a hilltop and build up to 61 houses on a 28-acre site blackened by last year's College Hills fire.
Homes by Polygon of Laguna Niguel plans to cut up to 112 feet off the top of a steep, horseshoe-shaped ridge and use the dirt to fill in a canyon north of the Glenmore Canyon area.
Opponents said details contained in the report, including five drawbacks to the project classified as significant and unavoidable, support their argument that the ridge should be left alone. "The report is quite damning," said Rob Sharkey, a homeowner leader who called a community meeting Monday.
Residents formed a homeowners group in April, 1990, after they learned about the developer's plans for the 28.8-acre site, south of Mountain Street and west of the Glendale Freeway.
Opponents argued that the project would destroy extensive wildlife and the native vegetation of the rugged terrain. However, all wildlife and vegetation were destroyed in the June 27, 1990, fire that also burned 64 adjacent hillside homes, according to the environmental study.
Polygon won City Council approval in 1987 to build the Rancho San Rafael subdivision on 316 acres on the east side of the Glendale Freeway at Mountain Street. A massive area of the mountain was carved out to make room for 542 homes in that subdivision, the largest ever undertaken in the city.
Robert M. Norman, a resident whose comments are included in the environmental study, called the Rancho San Rafael project "a repulsive sight. Another like it would only compound the ugliness."
The study concludes that any development on the site would severely affect the ridgeline. Both a 47-lot proposal and a 61-lot alternative would "unavoidably result in significant adverse impacts to local aesthetics," according to the report by an independent consultant, the Planning Consortium of Orange.
"It would be very difficult for the city to ignore the many problems identified as significant, unavoidable impacts," said Sharkey, a founding member of the Glenmore Canyon Homeowners Assn., which represents about 200 hillside families.
Sharkey likened the proposed project, commonly referred to as Polygon II, to "decapitating a mountain and bulldozing it into a canyon." He said the developer "has aimed too high and wants too much. Right now, what it poses is an impossible project."
But developers argue that the project is designed to have a minimum impact on adjacent neighborhoods because streets to be built in the project would not connect to existing streets in adjoining areas. The 47-lot plan, proposed by the developer as the first option, provides for berms to be retained on the outside of the upper ridgelines on the northwest and eastern sides to lessen noise and visual impacts.
Glendale residents have long been sensitive to hillside development. A variety of proposals were offered and rejected over a period of two decades before the Rancho San Rafael subdivision was approved, with the provision that much of the site be preserved as open space.
Residents two years ago flooded city officials with protests after they learned of another developer's plans to flatten a prominent ridge to fill in a hole and complete the controversial Oakmont View subdivision in the Verdugo Mountains.
Council members said they eventually had no choice but to approve the grading project, but have since placed a moratorium on new hillside housing projects. Polygon II is exempt from the ban because environmental studies had already begun when the moratorium went into effect in February, 1990.
Sharkey warned that the latest grading proposal could become "a political albatross" to officials who support it. "This is filled with problems, major problems," he said. "The answer is, just don't build the thing."
About 50 homeowners attended a community meeting with city planners Monday to learn more about the project, voice their concerns and plan strategy.
Residents are particularly angry about aesthetic issues, including the grading of the ridge, as well as loss of the wilderness area, said David Bobardt, a city planner.
Residents have until Sept. 15 to submit comments for inclusion in the draft environmental report, Bobardt said. A joint public hearing on the report is expected to be held in September before the Environmental and Planning Board and the City Council. Further hearings on the subdivision itself will be held before the Planning Commission and City Council, probably before the end of the year, Bobardt said.