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Glendora Voters to Weigh Land Swap

A developer seeks to move Glendora Country Club and build homes on the current golf site.

October 03, 2006|Hector Becerra | Times Staff Writer

Time after time, a development company saw its plans to build homes in the foothills above Glendora rejected by city officials.

But that company has come up with a new strategy that critics consider both ingenious and disturbing.

The developer is asking voters today to approve a land swap that would allow it to tear down the Glendora Country Club, which the company would then relocate -- at its cost -- on the hillside land.

The developer would then build 338 homes on the old country club site -- far more than it wanted to build on the hillside.

The Sierra Club has joined Glendora in opposing the ballot measure, which city officials say could set a dangerous precedent at a time when developers across the region are trying to build more in the hillsides, where much of the remaining raw land lies.

"To me, it was a brilliant move on the developer's part," said Councilman Gary Clifford. "But it's a bad move for anyone in the city of Glendora."

So-called ballot-box planning is nothing new to Southern California, where voter initiatives have been used by developers and slow-growth forces to decide contentious development battles.

But some land-use experts say the situation in Glendora is unusual because the developer, NJD Ltd., is proposing radical planning changes to the upscale suburb -- moving a landmark country club, building a new golf course and creating a new community -- through a ballot measure carefully crafted by a developer rather than city planners.

"That's extremely clever and creative," said Paul Shigley, editor of the Ventura-based California Planning and Development Report. "I have never heard of a land swap like that. That's very novel."

The developer has raised eyebrows by offering $10 Ralphs gift cards to residents who vote in the special election. City officials questioned the propriety of it.

But a consultant for NJD -- whose owners live in Colorado and California -- said they have had to mount an aggressive campaign because the city has placed numerous roadblocks.

Consultant Rick Davis said the city called the special election for Measure A instead of allowing the vote to take place during the November general election. Special elections typically attract low voter turnouts.

There are about 2,700 permanent absentee voters among 20,000 registered voters in Glendora.

Measure A supporters have especially targeted absentee voting, Davis said, although he said the gift cards are given to anyone who votes absentee -- regardless of how they vote.

He said city officials are acquiescing to the wishes of well-heeled, vocal residents who live near the country club and who hold disproportionate sway with elected officials.

"These are the people who are politically active and contribute to their campaigns," Davis said. "What is really a good issue has become a NIMBY issue. They don't want development there."

The developers have spent more than $1 million on the campaign. It is the most expensive political campaign in the history of the city of 53,000.

Opponents have waved signs along streets and charged that the measure would ruin the neighborhood around the 100-acre country club and scar the picturesque hillside.

The developer owns about 400 acres in the hills above Glendora and nearby San Dimas. But it has struggled to build houses on the land because of tough zoning restrictions.

"They have always known what our rules were, but they didn't like the rules," said City Manager Eric Ziegler. "So their proposition is for the 50,000 residents of Glendora to change their rules so they could meet their profit margin."

Mayor Doug Tessitor said passage of the initiative would result in a loss of local control.

"They've concocted an initiative which completely negates our hillside ordinance, all our zoning codes and our building standards," he said. "It basically gives them a blank check."

But Davis said the measure would actually protect the hillside because it would mean building a golf course on about half of the 400 acres rather than more invasive homes. He said the country club and golf course would be integrated as much as possible in the foothills' natural terrain, adding that one way or another, homes will be built somewhere.

"They try to make it sound like we're going to go up there and flatten hills and drop a golf course on top," Davis said. "We're going to build into the terrain. It's not going to be green fairways the whole way."

The idea of the land swap first surfaced early last year, said Terry Beal, president of the Glendora Country Club. Beal said the idea of having a new country club and golf course to replace a facility dating to 1955 was attractive.

Earlier this year, most of the club's 455 equity members voted on the proposal, Beal said. Sixty-one percent voted to support the plan.

"It was a big mandate to move forward," Beal said. "We'd get a new facility for nothing. It's a good deal."

Beal complained that city officials have sent letters implying that the city would try to seize the land.

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