San Rafael Hills Subdivision Put in Doubt by Hensler : Glendale College Up in Air Amid Uncertainties Over 588-Unit Project

Times Staff Writers

Blaming high costs and risks, the co-owner of what could become the largest housing subdivision in Glendale's history says he is uncertain that the project will be built.

Robert R. Hensler of Glendale, who has city approval to build a 588-unit subdivision in the San Rafael Hills, said economic and marketing studies completed this month "indicate that it is not feasible" to proceed with the development with his present partner.

Hensler, co-owner of the 316-acre development site with the S. T. MacDonald family of Montrose, said he is looking for another developer willing to participate in or take over the project. If he is unable to find a partner, Hensler said he may drop the project.

The possibility of the project's falling through shocked officials at Glendale Community College, which had planned to build more parking and tennis courts with the $1.1 million it was to receive from the sale of 2.6 acres needed for a roadway to the proposed subdivision.

Construction Plans Jeopardized

College officials said that, if the sale falls through, they will have to indefinitely shelve plans to build more parking, which they say is sorely needed.

After attempting to develop the property for years, the co-owners in April narrowly won City Council approval of a zone change by agreeing to meet 51 conditions imposed by the city.

The conditions include a requirement that the developer build a major new roadway through the hillside to connect Mountain Street, east of the Glendale Freeway, to Chevy Chase Canyon, near the Emerald Isle area. The cost of the road, which the city has agreed to share equally with the developer, is estimated at $6 million.

The city also is demanding that developers dedicate 213 acres of the project site to the city as open space before any construction begins. Hensler and the MacDonald family had proposed donating that open space to the city in stages, as building proceeds. Hensler said the city-imposed condition of immediate transfer of all 213 acres makes financing for the project difficult to obtain because the developer cannot use the land as collateral for a loan.

Those two conditions, as well as others, make the project too costly and too risky, Hensler said. However, he said, some other developer may be willing to assume the project, given the time that has been spent to gain city approval.

Hensler said he has "had interest from other developers," but added, "I don't know how extensive the interest is." He said he expects to decide within six weeks whether to proceed.

However, Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg, who cast the deciding vote approving the project in April, said city officials were not aware that the project is in jeopardy. Bremberg said she voted for the project, even though she objects vehemently to building a new road in the hillsides, because there is "a crucial need" for moderate-priced housing in the city. The subdivision would provide 452 town houses and duplexes, with prices starting at $150,000, as well as single-family housing.

Bremberg suggested that Hensler negotiate with the city to overcome any obstacles that may block the project.

"That is precisely the type of housing we need to provide in this city," Bremberg said. "I think we can reason together."

College Learns of Problem

Administrators at Glendale Community College got their first inkling that the project was in trouble when Jean Larson, business manager for the district, called Hensler earlier this month about proceeding with the sale of the college's land.

"He told me they were checking within the industry to see if someone would be interested in taking over the project or entering into a partnership," Larson said.

Larson, who had included the money from the sale in the college's 1986-87 budget, immediately notified college officials that two key construction projects were in jeopardy.

The college put the $1.1-million price tag on the land when it put the parcel out for bid last year. Hensler was the only bidder, even though he has repeatedly objected that the price was too high. The bid was secured with a $10,000 deposit, but actual sale has not entered escrow, Hensler said.

The college had planned to build eight tennis courts and add 300 parking spaces to the campus. Parking is so scarce now that many students must park in nearby residential neighborhoods.

Saying he was "extremely disappointed," acting President John A. Davitt said the college's attorney is studying the accepted bid to see if the developer can be held to the terms of the sale.

If the development does not go through, it will be the second major blow to the college's construction plans. Last month the school had to delay plans for a $4-million building after expected state funding failed to materialize. The building was to house classrooms and faculty offices.

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