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CANYON HILLS PLAN TO BE HEARD PROPOSAL FOR 887 VALLEY ACRES STIRS CONTROVERSY.

Byline: Kerry Cavanaugh Staff Writer

SUNLAND - Developer Rick Percell has spent more than a decade planning Canyon Hills, a 230 luxury-home neighborhood proposed for one of the San Fernando Valley's largest tracts of open space.

Now, with the project scheduled to be heard Tuesday by the City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee, Percell hopes to convince city leaders that he's finally found the ideal compromise for a community concerned about losing open hillsides.

``I've been very conscientious,'' Percell said. ``I'd like to think what we've done is minimize impacts but still provide housing.''

The plan calls for clustering new homes on the edge of an existing neighborhood, while donating 60 percent of the project land as public open space.

But project opponents already say Percell's compromise calls for dozens more houses than otherwise would be allowed on the steep hillsides, and they say it set a precedent for more intense development in the rural neighborhoods of the northeast San Fernando Valley.

Longtime Shadow Hills resident Mary Benson said the Canyon Hills proposal would override the strict zoning laws enacted to protect the hillsides.

``If the ordinances that protect hillsides and homeowners from irresponsible development are able to be decided away, ... then there are no protections. No open space at that point is safe.''

The 887 acres of brush-covered Canyon Hills face the Pasadena Freeway near Tujunga. The land, now zoned for agriculture and minimum density, is subject to the city's strict hillside regulations, which Los Angeles planners said would allow 169 homes.

Opponents have threatened to sue, saying even 169 homes would be too many and only 45 to 87 homes should be allowed under hillside rules.

Percell has applied to change the zoning and the city's General Plan, the basic guide for development, to sidestep hillside protection rules and allow greater housing density.

Assistant Planning Director Bob Sutton said the city must allow development on private property, and the General Plan and zone amendments change the rules to get the most benefit for the community.

``This is an attempt to keep it as rural as possible. In this particular case, if you work with (the) General Plan, it will result in not as good of a development,'' he said.

Percell's father owned the land with a business partner in the 1970s, and they at one time considered building 2,200 homes over the entire property.

Rick Percell bought the land in 1996 and planned to sell the property to a home builder who wanted to develop 592 homes. Percell said he canceled the deal when he realized the project was too large and would never be approved.

Over the next few years, Percell consulted with political and community leaders and changed the project a number of times before settling on 280 homes clustered on the eastern edges of the property to maximize the open space that could be donated to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

Still, Councilman Wendy Greuel and environmentalists had serious concerns about the project, particularly plans to build homes on the ecologically sensitive area south of the Pasadena Freeway.

Earlier this summer, the Planning Commission ruled Percell could build 230 homes, but only on the north side of the freeway,

Greuel and community activists are pushing to cut the number of houses further.

``Right now it's a game of chess,'' Greuel said. ``My position has always been to save as much land as possible in perpetuity. The issue at hand is what is the best plan to get there.''

But Percell has warned that he will not reduce the number below 230 homes, or the compromise will be called off and the community will get no public open space.

``Any further reduction would force us to pursue vigorously a by-right development with 169 ranchette-style homes on large lots that would require the use of the entire 887 acres.

``This is our least-favored option, but we would have no choice.''

Kerry Cavanaugh, (818) 713-3746

kerry.cavanaugh(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 12, 2005
Words:663
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