Agua Dulce Wins Its Own Zoning District

Times Staff Writer

An unusual zoning plan designed to preserve Agua Dulce’s rural flavor was approved Thursday by the county Board of Supervisors, making the Santa Clarita Valley hamlet the second unincorporated area in the county to create its own zoning district.

The board voted 3-0, with Supervisors Pete Schabarum and Deane Dana absent, to approve a special “community standards district” after a heated presentation by an absentee landlord who accused Agua Dulce’s residents and the county of “telling me what I can do with my land.”

The new community-standards district was designed by a task force of residents and community leaders to protect Agua Dulce from a recent onslaught of housing development that has affected several other rural communities in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Called Innovative


Praised as innovative by county planners, the plan prohibits the construction of homes on less than two acres of land, requires future commercial development to utilize Old West architecture and stipulates that streets cannot be wider than 24 feet.

Agua Dulce’s residents formulated the plan under a little-used county code that gives more planning clout to unincorporated areas. The only other community-standards district in the county is in West Hollywood, where residents imposed a building-height limit before the area became a city.

Agua Dulce’s plan is the more far-reaching, however, and county planners say it may pave the way for other rural areas interested in protecting their environs. Residents of the town of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island are also hammering out details of a community-standards district.

One provision of the new district--to limit development of the local airstrip--was not approved by the board Thursday despite a county-conducted poll showing that it was supported by 80% percent of the community of 2,500.


A public hearing on the airport issue has been scheduled for May 21. At that time, county Aviation Division officials are expected to push for their plan to more than double traffic at the airstrip, which now serves about 50 private planes.

Shouting Erupts

Shouting erupted at Thursday’s meeting when developer Charles Pratty, an absentee landlord who owns a 900-acre parcel of undeveloped land in Agua Dulce, demanded to be excluded from the new zoning district.

Pratty, who bought the parcel in 1947 and has proposed building 800 Spanish-style villas and tract homes on it, accused the board of “zeroing in on one spot in the whole county and saying, ‘You can’t have housing density, Mr. Pratty.’ ”

“The residents out there got together and decided what I should do with my property,” Pratty told the board. “What they want is a big vacant piece of land to enjoy all for themselves.”

More than 60 Agua Dulce residents who made the hourlong trip to the meeting in downtown Los Angeles yelled and thumped their feet in response, with some crying out, “That’s not true!” and “We pay taxes too!”

Feuding for Months

Pratty and the residents have been feuding for months, with Pratty at one point conducting an informal mail poll of other large absentee landowners asking whether they supported the density limits proposed in the new zoning district.


Although Pratty contended that a majority of large landowners opposed the new density restrictions, a poll conducted by county planners showed that 54% of them favored the two-acre parcels.

The two-acre limit also prohibits developers from employing the countywide practice of “density transfer,” in which those who cannot build on their hillside tracts are allowed to greatly increase the housing densities on nearby flat sections.

Under the new plan, owners of hillside land will be able to only slightly reduce their parcel sizes in nearby flat areas, from two acres to 1.6 acres, county planner David Vannatta said.

Vannatta called the new district “good and proper” because Agua Dulce has no sewer system or water system and cannot support heavy housing development.