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Planners Favor Tough Rules for Building on Hills

February 25, 1993|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GLENDALE — The Planning Commission has recommended adoption of a stringent new hillside development ordinance, but deferred a decision on the most controversial issue--allowable density--to the City Council.

The council on Tuesday will begin hearings on the issue, which has been debated for two decades among homeowners, developers, business leaders and city planners.

A new policy, expected to be adopted by April, could dramatically curtail the amount and type of building permitted in the remaining undeveloped hillsides.

Design guidelines would limit the size and shape of cuts into slopes in order to preserve as much as possible of the natural appearance of the hills, which "help to visually define the character of Glendale," according to a 155-page draft ordinance.

After 10 months of study, four public hearings and six hours of debate that dragged into the early-morning hours Wednesday, the commission, in a series of votes, recommended adoption of a proposed ordinance and changes in the city's General Plan. But the panel was unable to agree on new density regulations.

Just how severely development will be curtailed will be determined by the council after more hearings. The first, on Tuesday, will begin at 6 p.m. in the City Hall council chamber, 613 E. Broadway.

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Depending on the steepness of slopes, the current General Plan permits one to three units per acre in areas designated as very-low-density residential/open space. New rules proposed by a city-appointed ad hoc committee recommend that as few as one unit per five acres be permitted in such zones. Subdivisions with clustered housing are encouraged to preserve open space, but even then, density could be limited to only 1.5 units per acre.

Developers have argued that the proposed rules are too stringent and would make any development in the hillsides impossible.

Representatives of homeowners, however, have said the proposed rules may not go far enough to protect the natural resources in the hills.

In an alternative first proposed before the Planning Commission last week, Bill Reed, a chemist and mathematician with Jet Propulsion Laboratory, introduced a complex, compromise density formula that generally would allow about one housing unit per acre in steep hillside areas.

In a 3-2 vote, commissioners at this week's meeting rejected the city's stiff density recommendations as too stringent. And the panel did not vote on the most liberal proposal presented by developers and the Chamber of Commerce. Instead, two commissioners urged that the council at least consider Reed's compromise.

Reed, 35, said he developed his own hillside development methodology at the request of the Deer Canyon Oakmont Property Owners Assn., of which he is a director.

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Reed said he developed an independent, intermediate formula "to try to preserve development rights while trying as well to preserve the character of the hillsides." The formula would allow developers a slight increase in density allotments if they agree to more sensitive grading of hillsides, such as preserving the natural contour of ridge lines.

Planning Commissioner Jack Hilts said Wednesday that he believes Reed "has come up with a density formula that is very sensitive to the preservation of hillsides and still usable to development."

City Council members said they hope to resolve the density issue and adopt a hillside development ordinance by early April, when three council members will retire: Mayor Carl Raggio, Ginger Bremberg and Dick Jutras.

The ordinance would amend the city's grading, subdivision and zoning rules and change the Open Space and Conservation Element of the city's General Plan. The conservation element, adopted in 1972, and a hillside preservation ordinance, passed in 1981, are considered outdated.

Changes are needed because the population and characteristics of the city are different from 20 years ago, Planning Director John McKenna said. The 30-square-mile city has grown from a largely white, single-family suburban community of 132,000 residents in 1972 to almost 190,000 residents today, half of whom are foreign-born, live in multiple-unit developments, have larger families and a greater need for open space.

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The community "has different lifestyles, different needs," McKenna said.

The current zoning ordinance is broad and does not provide specific guidelines for hillside development depending on the steepness of terrain and the habitat, streams, woodlands and other mountainous features, said James Glaser, planning services administrator.

The proposed new ordinance is far more complex and stringent. Lot sizes, for instance, would be increased from a current minimum of 7,500 square feet to 14,500 square feet.

The slope of cuts into hillsides would be less severe and height limitations significantly lowered. Design of houses would have to conform to hillsides, with pads cut at several levels down a slope, rather than one large cut to create a flat pad used to accommodate conventional-design construction, Glaser said.

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