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AGOURA HILLS CLOSER TO SAVING OPEN SPACE.

Byline: Kevin F. Sherry Daily News Staff Writer

Moving toward its longtime goal of protecting open space, the City Council plans to hire a consulting group to help the city set up an open-space task force, take an inventory of open space and develop strategies to protect it.

The council is expected to approve a six-month, $36,645 contract with RRM Design Group of San Luis Obispo today to advise the city how to take its first steps toward securing more open space.

``Open space is fundamental to the very soul of Agoura Hills,'' said Councilwoman Louise Rishoff.

About 1,500 acres, or 30 percent, of Agoura Hills already is designated as open space, said Michael Kamino, the city's senior planner. Open space can be designated in three ways:

The city can require a developer to include open space as part of a development.

Any privately owned land that has a slope above 35 percent is automatically zoned as open space.

And finally, publicly owned land can be converted to open space, such as land above 1,100 feet behind the Radisson Hotel owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

The first step in securing open space is to identify the properties that might be converted, then ranking them in order of importance, said T. Keith Gurnee of the RRM Design Group. Officials will determine ``which lands represent the first, best opportunity to do something,'' he said.

RRM will then take two days or so to interview the 20 to 25 landowners they have identified, Gurnee said. Each meeting should last 30 to 45 minutes.

``We've got to strike a balance,'' Rishoff said. ``People have the right to develop their property.''

Interviews likely will begin late this month or after the Fourth of July, Gurnee said. The toughest part of the process is finding out which method works best with which landowner, he said.

``We try to get a sense of what people think are the issues, and their perceptions,'' Gurnee said.

Options for the city include buying the land outright, persuading the landowner to donate the land to open space and offering various kinds of incentives to landowners to convert some or all of their land to open space, Gurnee said.

``We just bring an awful lot of experience in open-space preservation techniques,'' Gurnee said. ``We know what can make these things work and what can't.''

Sometimes cities can encourage owners to cluster developments on their properties, so that open space is maximized. Ideally the city can come to an agreement with the landowners that makes them the willing providers of the open space, Gurnee said.

Preservation of open space has always been a priority in the city's 15-year history, and has especially been championed by former Mayor Fran Pavley, who likely will serve on the new open space task force. The issue usually has been on the back burner, said Councilman Ed Corridori.

``Developers are going to go after the flat and easy parcels first,'' Rishoff said. But ``they're always looking at the hills.''

A solid plan to protect open space will help protect against political decisions by future councils who might not hold open space in as high regard as it is held today, said Mayor Denis Weber.

``If we don't do this . . . it would only take three votes of five individuals to overturn certain parameters we have in place,'' Weber said. ``We have to have a vehicle to take open space under the city's control. We need to take care of our own destiny.''

The Agoura Hills City Council is scheduled to meet at 7 tonight at 30101 Agoura Court, Suite 102.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 10, 1998
Words:606
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