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City Council Backs Reconstruction Rules : Normal Heights Will Be Close to Normal Again

Times Staff Writer

Thirty days after the devastating Normal Heights fire destroyed more than 80 homes, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously endorsed a sweeping set of guidelines for rebuilding the Mountain View Drive area--and “mending the fabric” of one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.

The report, written by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects and city officials, was compiled after several community meetings. “Prepared primarily for the victims to help them approach the rebuilding process in a sensible way,” the guidelines will assist, if only in a general sense, planners and developers who ultimately will carry out the reconstruction.

Longtime Normal Heights residents have expressed fears that the construction dictated by the fire will change the character of what traditionally has been a lushly landscaped neighborhood of distinctive single-family homes and duplexes. The report repeatedly addressed those concerns, along with reminders to residents of what must be done to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.

It suggested:

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- Maintenance of the single- and two-family character of the neighborhood north of Collier Avenue.

- Preservation of the canyons on the south wall of Mission Valley as open space.

- Continuation of weed abatement programs for clearing vacant lots and canyons.

- Acquisition by the city of the undeveloped point at the north end of Cromwell Court as a viewpoint overlooking Mission Valley.

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Where possible, the report suggested, the city also should acquire smaller parcels for parkland, and officials were urged to survey homeowners whose houses were destroyed to determine which ones intend to rebuild, and to identify those interested in selling their property so those lots could be considered as park sites.

For those rebuilding, “an overriding consideration is that new homes should be built as single-family, free-standing residences,” the report said. In addition, it warned that tight architectural guidelines might be imposed to guide the reconstruction.

“An important part of the character of Normal Heights is its varied and individualistic architectural expression; and yet, certain styles, materials and colors are not appropriate . . . it is important to consider the appropriateness of style, material and color when designing the new residences.”

Another challenge will come in re-creating the landscaping that marked the neighborhood. “Up until the fire, the neighborhood distinguished itself by the detail in its facade, the use of varied landscape and the treatment of the front yard,” the report said. “This aesthetic should continue to be encouraged; it will facilitate the ‘mending of the fabric.’ ”

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Once the fabric is mended, the report suggested, there are ways to reduce the likelihood of another tragedy, be it a fire or devastating landslide. But it concluded that, while the use of fire-preventive architectural and landscaping techniques is critical, “there is no single correct solution to either erosion or fire threat in canyon areas.”

“Those in or near the burned areas are most concerned about potential erosion next winter,” the report said, “while those in unburned areas are concerned about the still-present fire threat.”


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