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Planners Take a Long View of Saving Scenery : Development: The aim of a new draft plan is to preserve scenic bluffs by regulating the height and bulk of new houses.


WESTCHESTER — More than four years ago, the construction of palatial homes atop the Westchester Bluffs sparked a move to control development of cliff-hugging mini-mansions.

Alarmed by the proliferation of such large dwellings, planners for the city of Los Angeles were instructed to come up with a way to regulate building that would preserve the scenic bluffs.

After many delays, they have produced a draft plan to control development on a narrow swath of land that stretches for more than three miles across the top of the bluffs from Westchester to Playa del Rey.

The 16-page document would impose restrictions on the size and scope of future residential and commercial projects. The height of buildings, amount of coverage on the lots, size of the yards, type of landscaping, extent of grading and drainage would all be controlled.

So far, the plan has sparked little controversy, but that could change when the community has a chance to voice its concerns at a public hearing Monday afternoon in Westchester.

"It is conceivable there are some adjustments to be made," said Los Angeles Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who pushed for preparation of the plan.

Galanter said the city has to "walk a fine line between the rights of property owners to make use of their property and a more public interest to protect the bluffs."

Although her office was instrumental in seeking the plan, Galanter stopped short of endorsing it, pending the outcome of the public hearing. "I would never say any solution is a perfect solution," Galanter said in an interview. "I would say this will evolve through the debate."

Already, the plan is drawing fire from community activist Sal Grammatico, who accuses the city and Galanter of having one standard for small property owners and another for major developments that will dramatically alter the bluffs and environs.

"You have regulation for little people and not for the big boys," Grammatico said. "There is something wrong with that."

Grammatico, president of a coalition of homeowner groups, noted that the City Council, including Galanter, supported a project to build UCLA faculty housing on the eastern end of the bluffs and recently approved a large expansion of the bluff-top Loyola Marymount University campus.

The long-range Loyola project will involve construction of dormitories for 1,250 students, a business school, a student center with a theater and cafeteria, an athletic field, and an underground parking garage.

Galanter defended the Loyola project in a council debate earlier this month as well as the university's exemption from an interim control ordinance designed to temporarily limit development elsewhere on the bluffs.

"The ordinance was intended to deal with residential development on the bluffs, with the enormous single-family homes that are overwhelming the bluffs," the councilwoman said. "The issue here is that you can't build a university like you build a single-family home."

The draft plan, if it is eventually adopted by the City Council, would control building along the bluffs from Sepulveda Boulevard, just west of the San Diego Freeway (405), nearly to the beach in Playa del Rey.

The area is divided into three zones, corresponding to the steep lots along the edge of the bluffs, and flat lots or sloping ones on the interior, up to several blocks from the cliffs.

The tallest homes could still be built on bluff-top lots that have sweeping views of the entire Westside, from Santa Monica Bay to downtown Los Angeles.

But to preserve some of the view for the public, the top of the building, usually the garage, could be no more than nine feet above street level. The house itself would extend down the hillside. The maximum height of the house top to bottom would be 45 feet.

The plan would also impose specific requirements for side yards, and would set strict limits for fences, walls, even the height of shrubs and trees.

When new homes are built, property owners would be required to make drainage improvements to protect the fragile bluffs from erosion and to limit the amount of storm water and urban runoff entering the Ballona Wetlands below the bluffs.

Away from the bluff face, the height of homes would be restricted to 30 feet for the flat lots and 36 feet for the sloping lots. To control the bulk of the buildings, no more than half of the lot could be covered by a structure.

With such issues at stake, Valerie Mattson, president of Playa del Rey Network, told members of the neighborhood group recently that it is critical for the community to get involved in the public hearing process.

In a letter to network members, Mattson said the hearings "will directly impact the height and density of development" within the bluff area.

"Admittedly, the last draft of the specific plan was not all that the network had hoped in terms of addressing some of the unique problems of development within Playa del Rey," Mattson wrote.

"However, the network supports the development and approval of the specific plan since it represents a reasoned approach to development within the area. Through these upcoming public hearings, we hope to improve upon the plan to make it as effective as possible."

The public hearing will be held Monday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Westchester Municipal Building, 7166 W. Manchester Ave. Copies of the draft plan are available from Galanter's district office and at libraries in the immediate area.

After the hearing a report will be prepared for the city Planning Commission, which will consider the plan and forward it to the City Council for final action.

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