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PLAN SPURS CONCERN FOR CREEK HABITAT.

Byline: Kevin F. Sherry Daily News Staff Writer

The success of a small development planned for northeast Agoura Hills could hinge on a debate about which side of Palo Comado Creek is best for building.

Although the Palo Comado Ranch project calls for just a dozen houses, their placement serves as a lesson about the need for developers and environmentalists to consider the other's concerns.

``It's really close to being a terrific plan,'' said Paul Edelman, staff ecologist for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

The Palo Comado Ranch Partnership is beginning to develop an environmental report on the impacts of building 12 houses on 91 acres along the west side of Chesebro Road. Residential lots of one to six acres would cover 32 acres, while the rest would be preserved as open space.

Palo Comado Creek would split the lots, with half on each side. Ten homes would be near Chesebro Road, with the two others on the far west end of the project.

The conservancy would prefer that all homes remain east of the creek.

``The developability of the site is severely constrained by ecological and topographical factors,'' said the conservancy's comment letter. ``The intrusion of two homes on the west bank would substantially reduce the ecological value of the principal open space area, and its primary habitat resource.''

The conservancy recommends an environmental report that would place all the houses east of the creek.

``It's such a natural delineation,'' Edelman said. ``Use the natural landscape barrier and put the houses on one side and the open space on the other side.''

In contrast, a letter from the National Park Service said two bridges proposed to span the creek to access the homes on the west bank ``will not significantly alter the adjacent stream banks and stream bed.'' The letter also suggests that ``the applicant and the city consider designing a bridge that will provide roosting habitat for beneficial insectivorious species such as bats and swallows.''

``It can be done correctly,'' said Melanie Beck, an outdoor recreation planner for the National Park Service.

Representatives from the Palo Comado Ranch Partnership did not return repeated phone calls.

The park service also generally approves of the project, especially because it is bringing only 12 houses to the area, Beck said.

``It's nice to see that it's not a small-lot subdivision going in with massive grading,'' she said.

However, because of the small scope of the project, ``it's much more difficult to measure the cumulative impact,'' Beck said.

According to the developer's project description, ``each lot would be sold and developed on an individual basis. . . . Actual pad areas, locations and configurations would be proposed by future lot owners.''

That means the park service and the conservancy will have to monitor the building plans for each house, Beck said.

``We want to make sure that views are not impaired,'' she said.

Both agencies want to ensure that the sensitive ecological nature of the area is not damaged by the development.

The project area borders the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and all but 0.3-acre is within Los Angeles County's Significant Ecological Area No. 12. Building in such an area requires planners to limit development, preserve the natural terrain and maintain the city's aesthetic character.

Any time people move themselves to a wild-land area, they change the environment, Edelman said.

``That influence then spills off a certain radius,'' he said.

According to the developer's project description, the Palo Comado Ranch site contains a variety of plant life, including coastal sage scrub, chaparral, grassland and 533 oak trees.

The type and thickness of the soil combined with the proximity of the oaks to a water source makes this valley oak habitat unique to California, Beck said.

``It is one of the few areas that is the best example of valley oak savanna,'' she said. ``It's an incredible natural resource. It's very precious.''

Residents of the homes also will find that they are not alone. A wide variety of wildlife roams the area.

``Anything in the Santa Monica Mountains would be there,'' Edelman said.

That list includes bobcats, badgers, foxes, coyotes and deer mice. Coyotes could handle sharing their neighborhood with humans, but the other species might be less tolerant and move out of the area, he said.

Both the park service and the conservancy want the developer to have a plan for the removal of grasses to reduce the threat during fire season.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 29, 1998
Words:740
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