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BERMITE REDESIGN STARTED COUNCIL VOTES TO BEGIN EFFORT.

Byline: Heather MacDonald Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - The City Council has begun a two-year effort to redesign a planned 2,911-home development on the site of the defunct Bermite munitions factory in the center of Santa Clarita.

The council unanimously approved an agreement Tuesday with Cherokee Investment Partners, a North Carolina firm that city officials hope will buy the polluted site near the Santa Clarita Metrolink Station on Soledad Canyon Road.

``The deals aren't totally done, but we're turning over a new leaf with this project,'' Mayor Cameron Smyth said. ``I was skeptical about Cherokee at first, but they have been open and honest with the council and community.''

Officials with Cherokee, one of the nation's leading remediation firms, estimate that it will take three to four years and $65 million to rid the hilly property of unexploded ordnance waste and dozens of toxic chemicals.

The company is Santa Clarita's best chance of stemming the plume of contamination in the area's groundwater that has shut down five wells and putting the property back into productive use quickly, city officials said.

Cherokee expects to redesign the land-use plan for the site, leaving a greater portion of it untouched and refraining from building homes on the most polluted areas of the property, company officials said.

Managing Director Dwight Stenseth did not return phone messages left Thursday.

The redesigned land-use plan also is expected to include fewer homes and more jobs, perhaps at a convention center or hotel that would drive economic development in the city, officials said.

Cherokee will conduct a feasibility study to determine what use is best suited for the site and an adjacent 238 acres owned by the city, where a civic center was once proposed, said Planning Director Jeff Lambert.

The agreement also indicates that the city will consider moving or eliminating some of the roads that are included in the current development agreement and approving some sort of public financing for development in order to pay for cleanup of the area's groundwater, which is expected to take decades.

Cherokee has also agreed to pay $250,000 to reimburse the city for half of what it paid to hire technical and legal consultants to develop a strategy for the Bermite property.

During the redesign, Cherokee will reimburse Santa Clarita for costs as well as staff and consultant time up to $1.5 million, city officials said.

The agreement also indicates the city's desire to allow the property to be graded as it is being cleaned and permit construction even as pumps are ridding the water of perchlorate, a rocket fuel byproduct that has been linked to thyroid disease and cancer, officials said.

Final action will be taken once Cherokee finalizes its purchase of the property, which is expected in the next several weeks.

Cherokee is not interested in phased development, officials said.

In the agreement, the city also promises to settle its two lawsuits against RFI and stop a process that could have terminated the current development agreement and forced Cherokee to start from scratch.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 16, 2003
Words:507
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