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Hillside Ordinance Not Built on Consensus : Development: A compromise that reduces hillside density is approved, but no one appears satisfied with the arrangement.


GLENDALE — A three-year battle to adopt new policies for hillside development in Glendale concluded late Tuesday with the adoption of a new ordinance, even though all sides agreed that the war is far from over.

In a series of 4-to-1 votes, the City Council approved policies that would allow an estimated 724 houses to be built on the remaining 1,500 acres of undeveloped privately owned hillside property in the city.

The new policies are a compromise between the estimated 1,042 homes that conceivably could have been built under the city's previous rules and the fewer than 400 homes that would have been allowed if more stringent guidelines favored by homeowner groups had been passed.

The compromise left developers and homeowners alike grumbling.

Developers are threatening to sue because they say the new standards are far too restrictive and could make all new development in hillside areas financially infeasible.

Homeowners too are unhappy, charging that a last-minute compromise formula struck by the council for allowable density in the hills is too lenient and will destroy their neighborhoods' ambience.

Even the four council members who approved the rules said the plan is not perfect and bound to change down the line.

"If you think this is going to be a win-win resolution, I can assure everyone, you will think you have lost," Councilman Larry Zarian told a dwindling crowd of onlookers who had waited through more than four hours of deliberations for a council decision. "We need to find something in the middle, something that is fair," he added, calling the new ordinance "one I can live with."

Three council members who are retiring in April--Mayor Carl Raggio, Ginger Bremberg and Dick Jutras--had said they wanted to resolve the controversial issue before their terms ended.

Referring to the compromise decision, Bremberg said: "I don't like it at all. . . . But if it is the difference between passage and failure, then I'll go for it."

Jutras, who had steadfastly argued that all versions of proposed new rules were too restrictive, cast the lone opposing vote in the series of policy votes, which required approval by four of the five council members.

But at one point even Jutras indicated he would switch his vote so that a proposal could be adopted, after Bremberg balked at what she considered to be excessive concessions in allowable density.

But Bremberg and three other council members--Raggio, Zarian and Eileen Givens--eventually agreed on a plan permitting at least .45 housing units per acre on the city's steepest slopes, and a maximum of three houses per acre on flat areas. An earlier proposal would have permitted as few as only one house per five acres, or technically, .20 houses per acre.

Hillside development standards adopted in 1981 allowed one to three houses per acre in hillside areas designated as very low-density residential/open space, depending on the steepness of the slope.

The new ordinance will not go into effect for 30 days, but city officials said the stricter rules could be applied to subdivisions that are planned but not yet built. Officials this week were unable to say how many proposed housing units could be affected. Council members within the next few weeks are expected to decide which, if any, proposed subdivisions may be exempted from complying with new policies.

The new rules include provisions to protect so-called secondary ridge lines, streams, natural habitat and woodlands. Guidelines call for more gradual and lower cuts into hillsides and the design of homes that more naturally fit into hilly terrain rather than conventional houses built on flat pads.

The minimum lot size will be increased from 7,500 square feet to 12,000 square feet--a compromise reached Tuesday from the proposed minimum of 14,500 square feet. Rules regarding size of flat pads have been completely eliminated, to allow more innovative housing designs, and the minimum spacing between homes has been doubled to 20 feet.

Officials said the new ordinance contains rules that are far more complex and stringent than guidelines contained in the city's old Open Space Element of the General Plan. That element, adopted in 1972, provided only broad and generalized rules for hillside development.

The council Tuesday adopted new elements of the General Plan for open space, conservation and land use as well as new guidelines for hillside grading, housing design and landscaping.

Council members said the changes as a whole, rather than just density limitations, will ensure that future development is more compatible with the mountainous terrain.

"I am not convinced that density is the driving factor" governing hillside development, commented Givens. "A combination of factors . . . make for an ordinance that is fair."

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