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Developers Sue to Nullify Hillside Building Rules : Housing: Environmental impact was not studied before the new laws were approved, the suit says. Builder plans to construct 623 units in the Verdugo Mountains.


GLENDALE — A prominent Glendale developer and a group of supporters are seeking to nullify strict new rules that went into effect last week limiting building on the city's remaining undeveloped hillsides.

Developer John L. Gregg and a group calling itself Citizens for Environmental Planning filed suit April 15 in Los Angeles Superior Court, charging that the city improperly failed to conduct an environmental impact study before making changes in zoning and the General Plan dealing with hillside development.

The suit asks that the new rules--adopted by the City Council last month after three years of debate--be set aside until comprehensive studies are completed, which could take a year or more.

The California Environmental Quality Act requires that extensive studies be conducted to determine the adverse effects of new development on the environment and all alternatives and mitigating measures that could be formulated to reduce those effects.

However, City Atty. Scott Howard maintains the study was not required because the potential for adverse effects is reduced with rules that limit the amount of development permitted.

The City Council on Tuesday met in closed session to discuss legal implications of the suit, but no action was taken. The city has until May 16 to answer the complaint.

Meantime, Gregg and his partners are proceeding with plans to build a massive hillside subdivision in the Verdugo Mountains north of the Oakmont Country Club.

Blueprints submitted late last month to the city Planning Department call for as many as 623 housing units on 238 acres. New rules could limit the number to 100 or even fewer, officials said.

Dave Weaver, president of the Glendale Homeowners Coordinating Council, called the suit "just another step, another try" by developers to thwart attempts to curtail hillside development. Weaver said he was not surprised by the legal action, which developers had threatened before adoption of the new rules.

"It was just a question of which tactic they would try first," he said.

The suit charges that the new rules are "a unified plan by Glendale to dramatically reduce the number of new dwellings which can lawfully, economically and reasonably be built in the hills."

As a result of building fewer homes, according to the suit, prices of hillside homes will rise and more people will be forced to live in outlying areas, causing an adverse effect on the environment because of longer commutes and more traffic congestion, smog and fuel consumption.

Those impacts require a comprehensive study under the state's rules, the suit alleges.

The city's new rules reduce the potential number of homes that could be built on the remaining 1,500 acres of undeveloped privately owned hillside property in the city.

The city's old hillside development ordinance, adopted in 1981, would have permitted an estimated 1,042 new houses, while the new ordinance allows for 724 new houses, according to planning officials. The new ordinance was a compromise of even stricter rules sought by homeowners, who wanted density limited to only 400 homes.

However, the suit charges that all of the new rules combined--including restrictions to preserve ridgelines and natural streams--will permit a total of only 200 new homes to be built on the remaining vacant land, which developers consider to be unfairly restrictive.

Others participating in the suit, filed by attorney Edwin C. Schreiber of Encino, are not named. However, the suit describes them, in part, as real estate developers, builders, owners, buyers and taxpayers. Neither Gregg nor Schreiber could be reached for further comment.

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