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Hillside Building Ban Ends : Development: Council to let moratorium lapse April 1. New construction guidelines are expected to be in place by this fall.


GLENDALE — A two-year moratorium on hillside development in Glendale will lapse on April 1, but city officials say all new projects will still have to comply with hillside rules now being formulated.

The Glendale City Council on Tuesday agreed to lift the moratorium after city planners said they expect to have a new hillside development ordinance ready for adoption by the fall.

Officials said requirements for environmental studies and other procedures will mean that no subdivision could begin construction before the new rules are adopted.

By lifting the moratorium, the city permits hillside property owners to submit new subdivision plans, which had been stalled during the moratorium. Officials also put the developers on notice that they will have to comply with proposed new guidelines when they are adopted.

The new ordinance is expected to impose stiff rules to preserve ridges and the natural terrain of hillsides surrounding the community.

Among the ideas under study is encouraging development of contoured lots, rather than the traditional grading of flat building pads, which often requires cutting into hillsides.

More innovative designs in home construction also are proposed, to blend in with the natural terrain. Raised foundations, for instance, may be required, allowing houses to be built on various levels, as opposed to those constructed on slab foundations.

Another possibility would be to require that houses blend in with the terrain and color of the hillsides.

Over the last two decades, methodical carving of hillsides has created gashes in the three ranges that cradle the city--the San Rafael Hills and the San Gabriel and Verdugo mountains.

Like dozens of other cities in Southern California, Glendale has been trying to preserve the appearance of its hillsides. The building moratorium was imposed in March, 1990, as a result of residents responding with widespread criticism to developer Gregg-Gangi having had a prominent ridge line sliced off in the Verdugo Woodlands area.

The city's existing General Plan protects primary ridge lines but has no rules to prohibit grading of secondary ridge lines, such as the Verdugo Woodlands site above Oakmont View Drive. City planners are using computer technology to identify all prominent ridge lines and minimize the effects of grading.

The city's resolve to protect hillsides was evident earlier this month when the council denied developer Ken Doty's request to build 22 view homes valued at $1 million apiece near Sleepy Hollow in Glenoaks Canyon.

Proposed by Doty before the moratorium was imposed, the development meets all of the city's current hillside rules. But the council refused to approve it because it would have destroyed a ridge line, even though the ridge is not protected under current rules.

The denial was designed to send a clear message to developers that the cutting of ridges in Glendale will not be tolerated, said City Atty. Scott Howard.

But, despite residents' fears that the hills surrounding Glendale will be drastically altered by development, city planners on Tuesday said construction could take place on a relatively small amount of land.

James Glazer, the senior planner in charge of writing the city's new rules, said only about 1,200 homes could be built on the remaining 1,500 acres of privately owned vacant hillside property in the city. "The fear that there is a massive potential for development is not there," he said. "The question is where it will happen."

The computer technology indicates much of the potential development is concentrated in the Chevy Chase Canyon area, where traffic, schools, drainage and views could be affected, Glazer said.

Meanwhile, Glazer said, about 900 new homes could be built on lots that are graded but still vacant. Other guidelines are possible to address officials' concern that those lots could be used to build oversized houses incompatible with the neighborhoods they are in.

Several groups, including the Glendale Chamber of Commerce and a homeowners' coalition, have been working for months to develop recommendations for hillside development. City planners said they expect to begin next month to meet with those groups as well as with developers, business leaders and representatives of homeowner organizations.

Final recommendations for a new hillside development ordinance and design guidelines are expected to be brought to the City Council by October, said City Manager David Ramsay.

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