Landowners Hope to Stop Plan for Road With 9-Year-Old Written County Promise

Times Staff Writer

A handful of residents here will try to persuade the county today to honor a 9-year-old written pledge not to take their land for a road.

The Board of Supervisors is expected, when it meets in Los Angeles today, to consider condemnation of the property necessary for a proposed extension of Balan Road half a mile to Brea Canyon Cut-off Road.

The County Department of Public Works has recommended the project to provide access to a new subdivision and improve traffic circulation in the area.

The eight property owners along the proposed route say they will tell the board that what is a small project to the county is a big headache to them and will break that 9-year-old promise made by county planners.

The proposed extension runs eastward from Pepperdale Drive. Property owner Terrill Webb, 34, said he bought his half-acre lot on Pepperdale in the path of the Balan Road extension only after being assured by the county that the road would not go through. He produced a July 26, 1976, letter from the Department of Regional Planning, which says there is "no requirement to extend Balan Road eastward."

Without that assurance, Webb said, he would not have bought the house, would not have built horse stables and a riding ring in his back yard and would not have added other improvements that, he says, have pushed the value of his property well above $200,000.

The original developer of the property, who also built Webb's house, said he had obtained the county pledge because of an existing easement that was making it difficult for him to sell the property.

Now, Webb said, he is confronted with county plans that would shave a 16-foot wide strip off the side of his property, bring the road within inches of his greenhouse and patio and encroach on his riding ring. The plan would invade the privacy of his family, uproot expensive trees and diminish the lot's value as horse property, Webb said. As compensation, the county has offered to pay him $680.

The road also is opposed by Webb's neighbors, James and Hildegarde La Viola, a couple in their 70s who live in a secluded house off Pepperdale Drive. The county would extend Balan Road along the unpaved easement that climbs up to the La Viola home. It has served as their driveway and as part of a neighborhood trail.

The project would take one-fourth of the 3.5 acres owned by the La Violas and bring traffic directly in front of their house.

Hildegarde La Viola, who said she has been ill and has been told by her doctor that she "must have quiet," said her home would be invaded by noise and dust. She said she has labored for 16 years to grow trees and plants which the county now proposes to destroy for a road that isn't necessary. "They want to take my whole front yard," she complained. "I'll have a nervous breakdown."

The La Violas said the county has offered them $17,000, which they regard as inadequate even if they wanted to sell, which they do not.

Former Football Player

In addition to the Webb and La Viola properties, the road would intrude on five backyards on Castlebar Drive, and take a 10-foot-wide strip off three acres owned by former Los Angeles Rams football player Will Sherman. Sherman's property, which fronts on Shelyn Drive, and the yards on Castlebar adjoin the easement to the La Viola home.

Sherman, Webb and other residents said the subdivision east of their property could by built without condemning their land for Balan Road. The subdivision would lose only a couple of lots, they said, by ending one of its new streets in a cul de sac instead of tying into Balan Road. Or Balan Road could be extended westward from Brea Canyon Cut-off Road into a cul de sac.

But Harvey Weese, supervising civil engineer with the county Public Works Department, said a traffic study shows that Balan Road should be extended all the way from Brea Canyon Cut-off Road to Pepperdale not only to serve the new subdivision, but to improve traffic circulation for the whole area.

Mike Lewis, Supervisor Pete Schabarum's chief deputy, said Schabarum will ask that condemnation action be delayed. Lewis said Schabarum wants to meet residents to discuss their concern about the project's impact on their neighborhood and the county's concern that failure to build the road will put more traffic congestion on other streets.

What about the Regional Planning Department's written assurance nine years ago that Balan Road would not be extended?

Webb said a county staff member told him that the two officials who sent the letter were dead and their assurances, therefore, were no longer valid. Webb said he asked, "What about the Bill of Rights? Those signers are dead, too. Is the Bill of Rights dead?"

Webb said he has been on the phone talking about Balan Road to so many county employees that he cannot remember the name of the one who suggested that county assurances die with county employees.

Actually, the officials who composed the Balan Road letter are still alive, but they have left county government, according to the Department of Regional Planning.

The letter was written at the request of a builder who said he was having trouble selling the house that Webb eventually bought. The house was hard to sell because county records showed an easement across the property. The builder, Robert S. Harvey, said the easement had been granted only to provide access to the La Viola home, and not for the extension of Balan Road, and he obtained the letter from the county Department of Regional Planning to confirm that fact.

Harvey said he has supplied Webb with documents on the tract, including the regional planning letter, and sympathizes with Webb's problem. But, he said, if the county wants to condemn land for a road, there is not much hope of stopping it.

Webb said that if the county had made the decision to extend Balan Road when his tract and an adjoining one were being developed, today's problem could have been avoided and the county would have saved money. It would have been a simple matter, he said, to require developers then to plan for and build the Balan Road extension.

George Malone, supervising regional planner, said he is surprised that his department gave such unequivocal assurances about Balan Road nine years ago because the county's master plan of streets and highways does not include local thoroughfares such as Balan Road. Local street routes are determined only as subdivision plans are approved, he said.

Apparently, Malone said, county planners saw no need to extend Balan Road in 1976, but since then Rowland Heights has been moving toward increased housing density, producing more traffic. The Rowland Heights community plan adopted by the county in 1981 has taken the area away from large lots suitable for keeping horses toward smaller lots in an urban setting, he said.

The extension of Balan Road was incorporated in the 266-lot subdivision approved by the Regional Planning Commission last year for property owner Robert Reed of Irvine. The Times was unable to reach Reed for comment on his plans.

The county has estimated the cost of extending Balan Road from Pepperdale Drive to the new subdivision at $175,000. In addition, $50,000 has been budgeted for acquisition of right-of-way.

Alfred Alfaro, senior real property agent for the county, said the right-of-way cost is low because most of the property is already encumbered with the easement that was established for access to the La Viola home. None of the eight property owners has accepted the county offer, however, Alfaro said, and the county will go to court to acquire the property if supervisors authorize condemnation.

Webb said he regards the $680 offer for his property as simply a ploy to attract a counteroffer.

Weese, the county engineer in charge of designing the road, said the county has tried to minimize the impact on Webb's property by narrowing the roadway. Instead of building the unusual 40-foot-wide road in a 60-foot right-of-way, Balan Road along Webb's lot would be 32 feet wide in a 46-foot right-of-way. Most of Balan Road would have a lane of traffic and a lane of parking each way, but a red curb would ban parking alongside Webb's yard.

Webb said narrowing the road does not really help his situation, and could cause traffic accidents, particularly because the approach to the Pepperdale intersection is downhill.

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