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Crescenta Valley residents seek to keep golf course as open space

Development company wants to use the site for 229 single-family homes, citing the dearth of affordable housing in Los Angeles. Residents fear more traffic and less recreational space.

July 18, 2009|Ann M. Simmons

Ever concerned about urban sprawl, Crescenta Valley residents also are worried these days about the lack of recreational facilities in their community. In recent years, they said, they have seen horse-riding stables, swimming pools and a bowling alley either shut down or move away.

Now residents are faced with a proposal to demolish the 50-year-old Verdugo Hills Golf Course in Tujunga and build 229 single-family homes. The 18-hole golf course occupies nearly half of the 58-acre project site at La Tuna Canyon Road and Tujunga Canyon Boulevard.

Some community leaders and environmentalists fear more housing would destroy the community's rural character, wipe out an important watershed and increase noise and traffic. Many would prefer that the property be turned into a regional park and are urging others to oppose the project's draft environmental impact report.

Residents have until Aug. 19 to comment on the report's findings.

Mark Dierking, project manager for Snowball West Investments, which bought the golf course property in 2004, said the land is designated for multiple-family residential units in Los Angeles' general plan.

"Within the city of L.A. there's still a demand for housing," Dierking said. The new project "would cut down on regional commuting and provide people with an affordable alternative."

The dispute has raged for five years and piqued concern among residents about encroaching development.

"Houses have been torn down and properties subdivided," said Cindy Cleghorn, secretary of the Sunland- Tujunga Neighborhood Council. "There's been increased density over density."

In addition to the Sunland- Tujunga area, Glendale and La Crescenta are among several communities that would be affected by the new housing. Residents in those areas are supporting efforts to preserve the golf course.

"It's a wonderful open space," said Karen Keehne Zimmerman, a board member of Glendale-Crescenta Volunteers Organized in Conserving the Environment. "It's got great recreational potential now, and it can be expanded in the future."

Jose Bautista, a La Crescenta resident, is a regular at the golf course. He said it offers a convenient outlet for his 14-year-old son, Nathan, stricken with debilitating Crohn's disease, to get a good dose of nonstrenuous physical activity.

"We live close by and we practice whenever time allows," Nathan said. "Golf doesn't take all my energy."

If the golf course is removed, "it would be a big loss to all the community," his father said, adding that it would be a long drive to other recreational facilities.

That's why some community activists and environmentalists are proposing to expand the golf course site into a regional park that would include a river walk, hiking and jogging trails, and tennis courts.

The housing project's draft environmental impact report, compiled by Christopher A. Joseph & Associates on behalf of the city of Los Angeles, acknowledges that the development would have certain "significant unavoidable impacts," including adverse effects on the area's scenic vista as well as damage to oak and sycamore trees. Neither would it help "the local deficiency of active recreational facilities."

The report also notes the potential for increased traffic on two major roadways nearby, including the 210 Freeway, but offers mitigation measures that could reduce the impact.

Dierking said the developers were open to discussing alternatives to the proposed project. These include the construction of 336 apartments in 14 separate buildings; combinations of mixed-use residential, retail and office units; or no development at all.

Although the company's primary goal is to develop the Verdugo Hills property, the owners would be open to selling it, "if they get a reasonable offer from a public agency," Dierking said.

Writing in response to queries, David Somers, environmental review coordinator for L.A.'s Department of City Planning, said the project site allows for "housing at a variety of densities," but is currently zoned "residential agricultural" with specific height requirements for structures.

He said a zone change would be needed for the proposed single-family housing project.

City Controller Wendy Greuel is among several local officials who have shown support for saving the golf course.

Until recently, Greuel represented City Council District 2, and had requested that the period for public comment on the draft environmental impact report be extended 30 days, to Aug. 19.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, whose 5th District includes parts of the Crescenta Valley, has pledged $1.7 million toward the acquisition and preservation of the site.

The money would come from the Los Angeles County Regional Parks and Open Space District, which administers funds for the development, acquisition and improvement of parks, open space and other recreational facilities.

"It's a very valued community resource," said Paul Novak, Antonovich's planning deputy. "It's been utilized by generations, for decades."

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ann.simmons@latimes.com

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