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County OKs $11 Million to Purchase Parkland : Topanga: The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy will buy 662 acres where a golf course and luxury homes had been proposed.

March 30, 1994|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Plans to turn the proposed site of a controversial housing project in Topanga Canyon into public parkland moved forward Tuesday as Los Angeles County officials gave $11 million to a state parks agency.

The unanimous decision by the County Board of Supervisors to release the money--part of voter-approved Proposition A funds--cleared the last major hurdle to resolution of the longest-running land-use dispute in Los Angeles County history.

In a surprise deal announced earlier this month, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy agreed to buy 662 acres in the Summit Valley area from Canyon Oaks Estates Limited Partnership, which had proposed building a golf course and 97 luxury home sites on 257 acres.

The price: $19.9 million, the highest paid by the conservancy since it was created in 1979. Supporters of the purchase say the property is well worth the price because of its large size and accessible location.

"This is the entrance of Topanga," said Supervisor Ed Edelman, who brokered the agreement.

As part of the deal, the development partnership--which is part of a Disney family trust--agreed to drop its plans if the conservancy could close escrow before April 5. The money released Tuesday allows the conservancy to finalize an initial purchase of 432 acres for $14.1 million.

The remaining 230 acres must be purchased before August, 1995. Money for that acquisition would come either from Proposition 180, an initiative on the statewide ballot June 7, or from money owed the conservancy by the National Park Service. Although the conservancy will carry out the purchase, the disbursement of Proposition A funds had to be approved by the supervisors.

Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the conservancy, and Robert Wilson, president of the Canyon Oaks partnership, said they foresee no problems in concluding the deal by next week.

However, ardent supporters of the Canyon Oaks golf course and housing project promised Tuesday that they would challenge the deal in court. "We are obviously not happy with this deal," said Topanga resident Paul Cook. "Disney gets the gold and we get the shaft."

Another Topanga resident, Joan Cooper, said she objected to turning the property into a park because of the increased traffic and noise because "anyone from anywhere can drive up our streets." Neighbor Bill Dillon complained that a park would allow the "criminal element to spew their venom" in Topanga Canyon.

A Canyon Oaks attorney said she was unsure of what effect delays caused by a possible legal challenge would have on the deal. Wilson has said that the partnership would revive its development proposal if the transaction with the conservancy did not proceed swiftly.

The money made available to the conservancy Tuesday was in addition to the $29 million released by the county last fall, bringing its total Proposition A disbursement to $40 million.

Edmiston said purchase of the Canyon Oaks property would delay a handful of acquisition projects until this summer, when $10 million in additional parks money becomes available. Three other projects would be delayed indefinitely--a grant to the El Cariso education project and the acquisitions of Elrita Bowl in the Hollywood Hills and Woodland Hills Estates in the Santa Monica Mountains.

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