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Agoura Hills Residents Demand Revamping of Industrial Proposal

Times Staff Writer

Thirty months after forming a city dedicated to slowing growth, homeowners Wednesday night demanded that Agoura Hills’ first major industrial project be redesigned to reflect the rural atmosphere of their bedroom community.

Residents of the eight-square-mile city 10 miles west of the San Fernando Valley jammed a City Council meeting to urge that a proposed $75-million manufacturing complex be scaled down, and that a row of 400-year-old oak trees and views of a landmark mountain be saved.

Developer Gerald Katell pleaded for permission to build, however, promising that his seven buildings would be a “low density, low-rise project” with a “parklike setting . . . on property presently occupied by weeds and billboards.”

Katell’s project is the first major development totally under the control of the Agoura Hills city government. The council was to vote late Wednesday on whether to grant permits necessary for the project.

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Previous projects in Agoura Hills were built under earlier Los Angeles County permits. The county’s perceived laxity toward development prompted homeowners’ overwhelming 1982 incorporation vote.

Master Plan Adopted

Well aware of the local sentiment, council members last week adopted a master plan for the city designed to buffer residential neighborhoods from commercial development. The master plan also seeks to preserve homeowners’ views of the hills by means of a 35-foot height limit for most new buildings.

At stake Wednesday were plans to develop 34 acres of rolling, oak-studded grazing land south of the Ventura Freeway and west of Reyes Adobe Road. The proposed 668,000-square-foot manufacturing complex would include an 18-acre headquarters for the Semiconductor Test Division of Teradyne Inc., a Boston-based firm that produces testing equipment used by computer manufacturers.

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Teradyne plans to close its 120,000-square-foot plant in Woodland Hills and transfer its 750 workers to Agoura Hills. About 1,250 jobs would be created by the $37-million expansion, according to the firm.

Battle lines began forming in March when Katell, 43, of Torrance, predicted quick approval of the non-polluting, tax-generating project.

“I can’t imagine any city in the United States that wouldn’t welcome us,” he said.

Fears of Traffic

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But homeowners complained that the project would choke streets with traffic, spoil their views of 2,036-foot Ladyface Mountain and destroy a prominent stand of native oaks.

The Agoura-Las Virgenes Chamber of Commerce jumped into the fray, with its executive director, Robert W. Pershelli, pronouncing the project “high-quality, professional, a gem.”

The business group revived a defunct chamber-produced magazine and published pointed attacks on “obstructionists” among city officials.

In the meantime, Katell scaled down his project from 725,000 to 668,000 square feet and penciled in more landscaping.

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Chamber directors on Friday approved bylaws that would allow the group to endorse candidates and issues in elections. A majority of the chamber’s 400 members must ratify the proposed change in a mail-in vote before the bylaws can be amended.

Homeowners countered on Saturday by staging a mock funeral outside Agoura Hills City Hall. About 100 persons, some wearing black armbands, carried a wooden coffin for what they described as a “reverse” burial.

When the coffin was opened, four oak seedlings were removed and replaced with a sign reading “Agoura Flats.”

“We want to show our determination to save the trees and hills for future generations,” homeowner Jack Koenig said.

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