Dixie Canyon Protests Win Planners' Denial of Subdivision Above

Times Staff Writer

Sherman Oaks residents who feared that construction of a proposed subdivision near Dixie Canyon would funnel floodwaters and mud slides into nearby homes and devastate canyon wildlife won a victory Thursday in a nine-year battle to block the development.

In a 3-0 vote, the Los Angeles Planning Commission upheld a pair of appeals filed four years ago by two homeowner groups after the city Advisory Agency, which evaluates subdivision plans, conditionally approved a proposal for an 11-lot residential development on the hilly site.

The vacant, 32.4-acre site is in a residential area in the Santa Monica Mountains on Sumatra Drive, north of Mulholland Drive and directly above Dixie Canyon.

Objections to Grading Plans

The residents, whose representatives said Thursday that they are not against developing the land, took issue with the developer's plans to grade parts of the hilly site and fill the 115-foot-deep Dixie Canyon slope with the excavated debris. They said they were afraid that runoff from rainstorms would sweep into homes on Dixie Canyon Place.

Saying that the overall effect of the grading made the project unacceptable, Planning Commission President Daniel P. Garcia moved to grant the appeals.

"The project site is physically unsuitable as presently proposed," he said.

Commissioners William G. Luddy and Suzette Neiman voted with Garcia. Commissioners Robert J. Abernethy and Sam Botwin were absent.

The developer, represented by Thomas Stemnock, can appeal the decision to the City Council, but Stemnock said he did not know whether that will happen.

Stemnock, president of Engineering Technology Inc. of Sherman Oaks, declined further comment.

The identity of the developer could not be immediately determined. But Renee Weitzer, an aide to Councilman Joel Wachs, whose district includes the site, said in a telephone interview that the property is now owned by actor Warren Beatty. Neither Beatty nor his representatives could be reached for comment.

The fate of the development proposal has been open for so long because of a series of questions about its effect on the environment, according to Weitzer.

About 40 Sherman Oaks residents attended Thursday's public hearing.

Pleased but 'Stunned'

One of them, Barbara E. Asa-Dorian, a leader of the Dixie Canyon Committee of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., said after the meeting that she was pleased but "stunned" by the decision.

"This has been nine years of pure hell," she added.

Earlier in the day, Ainslie Pryor, who lives on Dixie Canyon Place below the the proposed development, testified, "I feel that filling this canyon is a threat not only to our safety but to our lives."

Pryor said earlier that illegal grading in the area brought "four-foot walls of water" shooting down the canyon.

One of the conditions under which Planning Officer Gary A. Morris had granted approval for the tract was that the amount of surface water flowing into Dixie Canyon Place not be increased. At the hearing Thursday, Stemnock told the panel that the planned construction of a retention basin would actually reduce runoff.

Putting the debris into the canyon was the most economically attractive disposal method, Stemnock said. He said it would take 20,000 truckloads to move the 175,000 cubic yards of debris that would be excavated.

But Planning Commission President Garcia said he felt there were other problems with the project.

Thursday's action was the latest in a long and complicated series of hearings and proposals since plans for the project were first submitted in 1977. In the intervening years, the property changed hands at least once, and plans were modified to try to overcome opposition.

The first version called for 29 homes.

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