Ruling Paves Way for Big Las Virgenes Development

Times Staff Writer

A five-year campaign by Calabasas homeowners to block a $200-million development at the main gateway to the western Santa Monica Mountains has been thwarted by a state appeal court.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal has ruled that Los Angeles County acted properly in authorizing development of a 520-acre residential and commercial site in the Las Virgenes Valley at the northern end of Malibu Canyon.

The ruling clears the way for construction on 1.2 million square feet of industrial and commercial space and on 1,312 apartments and other dwelling units. The Currey-Riach Co. of Calabasas will be the primary developer.

The completed project will extend from the Ventura Freeway south along Las Virgenes Road to the Malibu Creek State Park boundary. It will be the largest development of its type in western Los Angeles County.

Homeowners had contended that the county ignored the environmental impact the huge project will have on the rural area. They had also charged that the county violated state zoning laws and provisions of its own general plan by authorizing the construction in 1983.

Suit by 2 Groups

Two groups of residents, the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation and the Monte Nido Property Owners Assn., sued later that year to block construction. When a Los Angeles Superior Court ruled in 1984 in favor of the county, the homeowners appealed.

Disappointed homeowners said Wednesday that they may ask for a new hearing by the appeal court, or carry their case to the state Supreme Court.

"We realize there's going to be development in the area, but it could have been sensitively planned," federation President Dennis Washburn said. His group is a coalition of 15 Agoura- and Calabasas-area homeowner associations that has been influential in local development issues.

"The impact . . . will be to block the view of what has been characterized as the main entrance to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and Malibu Creek State Park with stacked flats--garages and condominiums," Washburn said.

Greg Aftergood, former head of the Monte Nido association and lawyer for homeowners in the case, said residents still think the density of the Currey-Riach development is "inappropriately high" for the rural mountain valley, five miles west of the San Fernando Valley.

"Certainly, we haven't changed our position about this project being incompatible with the area in terms of size and scale," Aftergood said. He said leaders of homeowners groups are concerned that the court ruling may signal other builders that the Las Virgenes region is ripe for urbanization.

But county Planning Director Norman Murdoch hailed the court ruling as a vindication of the county's controversial land-use master plan, hammered out in 1981 after a five-year battle among environmentalists, property owners and developers.

He said Currey-Riach's industrial buildings and homes will be concentrated in flat areas of the Las Virgenes Valley. About 215 acres of hilly terrain on the western edge of the site will be preserved as open space.

Planner Pleased

"It was a clear-cut ratification of our clustering concept to save hills and ridge lines and minimize grading," Murdoch said Wednesday. "To sprawl development over everything completely destroys the natural beauty, even if it's developed at a relatively low density."

Helen Parker, the county's lawyer in the case, said homeowners' environmental concerns about the project were clearly addressed during hearings held by the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. "The administrative record in the Currey-Riach case was more than 3,000 pages long," she said.

The appellate court's ruling, written by Justice Lynn D. Compton and filed last Friday, says that the Currey-Riach project complies with the county's policy of consolidating development along the Ventura Freeway while preserving more-distant hillsides.

"The proposed project not only commits land near the freeway appropriately to urban development, but also . . . ensures a commitment to the reservation of a significant amount of open space . . . ," the ruling said.

Hans Giraud, project coordinator for Currey-Riach, said his company was able to start grading on the site last year because homeowners did not seek an injunction to halt work. Construction of the first phase of industrial buildings and apartments will begin this summer, he said.

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