Odis Sneed's rooster no longer crows at sunrise in Val Verde, and the silence speaks volumes about the way the village is changing.
Sneed, who has kept roosters for three decades in the community five miles west of the Golden State Freeway in the Santa Clarita Valley, recently got rid of the bird after his new neighbors complained about the incessant crowing.
He is not worried that some of the hamlet's country atmosphere disappeared with the last cock-a-doodle-do.
"Times change, and you have to change with it," said Sneed, 69, who moved from Watts to Val Verde 30 years ago.
Sneed can afford to be philosophical because he has profited by selling some of his land to developers, who are intent on transforming the village of 1,689 people into a mecca for commuters seeking affordable housing and a semi-rural atmosphere.
In the past five years, developers have built more than a quarter of the area's 531 houses on 50-by-100-foot lots that were subdivided when blacks created a summer resort in Val Verde in the 1920s. Ersatz Tudor houses and postage-stamp-size lawns now share narrow streets with modest bungalows. The village still has no traffic lights and only one general store.
Local civic leaders and county planners say the building boom has spruced up the hamlet, which lost some of its early luster when blacks found other vacation spots and poor farm workers moved into the cabins.
But they are also concerned that if growth continues unchecked, it will bring problems as well as improvements. County planners say developers could build at least 150 houses on small lots without having to seek permission. The planning department just began a study to determine how to guard the village from the urban growth of nearby communities.
"We want to make sure the lifestyle is protected," said Lee Stark, the county planner in charge of the study. "When lots are as small as they are in Val Verde, and one after another are developed, it threatens the community's rural charm."
One possible solution is to restrict the size of houses that can be built on small lots in hopes of encouraging developers to consolidate their parcels, a policy that may become necessary because Val Verde relies on septic tanks for sewage disposal, Stark said.
The recommendations will be presented to the county Board of Supervisors next summer, he said.
Stark said creating a strategy to manage growth is particularly important now because of the potential impact of the Valencia Commerce Center, a huge industrial park being built just a few miles east of Val Verde near the Golden State Freeway.
When the center is completed in 1993, it is expected to create 20,000 jobs.
That is expected to make it even easier for developers to market Val Verde as an alternative to the Antelope Valley, where houses also cost less than $200,000.
Already, the prospect of the Valencia Commerce Center has attracted some home buyers to Val Verde.
"Maybe I'll be lucky enough to get a job there," said Bobbi Newton, 37, who just moved to Val Verde and commutes to her job in Granada Hills.
She and her husband, Fred, bought a three-bedroom house for $160,000 this summer in Crestwood Estates.
Located on the outskirts of town, the brand-new, tightly clustered houses look slightly incongruous surrounded by sweeping expanses of hillsides and fields.
Two years ago, the couple rejected the village when they began searching for property that a truck driver and a marketing specialist could afford.
"There used to be a lot of shacks and lean-tos here, but the area has changed a lot," Bobbi Newton said.
Many of the small summer cottages in the community were never intended as permanent dwellings and became dilapidated over the years once they were occupied full time, said Laura Lynn, a county building inspector.
"When I moved here 25 years ago, my husband brought me to a shack with dirt floors, no electricity and no running water," said Penelope January, 42, a county maintenance worker at Val Verde Park. "I cried for two weeks straight."
In 1980, the housing stock had deteriorated to the point where county inspectors considered more than half of the 250 houses substandard.
But since then many residents, including January, have obtained home-improvement loans or have sold their property.
Today, Lynn says she has only about 30 active cases in Val Verde, and most of them concern junk dumped in empty lots, not houses with inadequate plumbing or exposed wiring.
"The change in this place is just incredible--I wish I had bought property here years ago," Lynn said.
The community may even get its first mini-mall this year.
"It's a cute little canyon, and it needs retail real bad," said Marty Slatsky, a West Hills developer who wants to build a fast-food restaurant and video store on property he bought this summer on San Martinez Road.