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Proposed Sylmar Project Drawing Neighbors’ Wrath

Times Staff Writer

A major industrial and commercial center, including 2 million square feet of office and warehouse space, parking areas for more than 6,000 cars, a motel, a recreational vehicle park and a small housing tract, has been proposed by the owner of 262 acres of rural hillside land in Sylmar.

If built, the $125-million project would be the single largest industrial development in Sylmar and would transform what has for years been scenic terrain and parkland into a bustling business center.

Even in its earliest stages of planning, the proposed project is sparking controversy among several Sylmar and Granada Hills homeowner groups, whose members are vowing to make the development process a long and difficult battle.

They are determined to keep development in accordance with the land’s current zoning designation--low-density, single-family housing. And the developer is likewise determined to see an industrial park emerge on the sprawling acreage.

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“We know the area has to be developed, but we are not going to tolerate industry right next door to us,” said Dorothy Russell, a homeowner in the housing tract next to the proposed center.

“There is going to be some give-and-take with the community,” countered John Symonds, owner and developer of the property. “But we are going to build an industrial park.”

Russell said she and other homeowners think the project would have a “severe impact” on their neighborhood of $175,000-range homes that fringe the hillside.

“Part of the charm of Sylmar is its rural atmosphere,” Russell said. “It’s an equestrian community where people walk horses down the street. Now a developer wants to change all that.”

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Two homeowner groups are circulating petitions to fight the development. Residents of the 140-home Saddle Ridge housing tract, where Russell lives, have organized a homeowners association as a result of their opposition to the project.

The groups have asked East Valley Councilman Howard Finn to oppose the project, but Finn will not take a stand until the city releases an environmental impact report, a Finn spokesman said.

However, in a letter to the city planning department, Finn has said that he is concerned about scenic-corridor protection, loss of open space and proper buffering between the project and surrounding homes. His letter also stated that the developer “should study a smaller development.”

As chairman of the council’s Planning and Environment Committee, Finn’s support or opposition will be pivotal to whether the project gets off the ground.

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Formerly a Horse Ranch

The development is called Sunset Farms for the horse ranch once operated on the property, which is in the northeast corner of Sylmar, bordered roughly by the Los Angeles aqueduct, Foothill Boulevard and the Saddle Ridge housing tract off Yarnell Street.

Symonds has asked the city to amend the Sylmar community plan and rezone the land from its agricultural and low-density housing designation to light industrial uses. The rezoning process could take at least a year.

Symonds, a Los Angeles architect who grew up in a ranch house on the land, which was purchased by his father in 1947, describes his project as a “responsible” plan that includes assets for the community.

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“I understand the homeowners’ feelings,” he said. “They all envision stockyard warehouses with a lot of noise, pollution and traffic. But I think most of their concerns are really out of fear of the unknown.

“What I intend to see in there is clean, light industry--some warehousing, some high-tech, research-and-development type of firms,” he said. “The area will be different, but it will be cleaned up a lot.”

Symonds’ plan includes five clusters of industrial buildings totaling 1.9-million square feet constructed amid park-like grounds. A tract of 34 single-family homes would be built next to the Saddle Ridge homes. A hotel and restaurant are planned along Foothill Boulevard and a 120-space recreational vehicle park would overlook the aqueduct.

Symonds plans to preserve and improve equestrian trails leading into Angeles National Forest. He said that, although half the land would have to be graded for construction, existing ridges would be kept to preserve the scenic nature of the area and provide buffers for homeowners.

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A private park and picnic site on the land, now rented for big private parties, would be donated to the city, he said.

Constructing houses in accordance with current zoning is not feasible, he said, mainly because seven Los Angeles city Department of Water and Power and Southern California Edison power lines crisscross the land.

“From a marketing standpoint, there are not too many people who want to live beneath high-voltage power lines,” Symonds said.

The hillside grading that would have to be done to build houses around the power lines would cost so much money, Symonds said, that home costs would run in the $250,000 range--a price that he said is not in keeping with the surrounding middle-class Sylmar neighborhood.

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“It makes more sense to build industrial,” he said.

Leaders of homeowner groups, however, disagree.

“There are power lines adjacent to many housing tracts around here. That is just a specious argument,” said Dean Cohen, president of the Sylmar Civic Assn. “Where is it written that homeowners have to guarantee developers a big profit?”

The homeowner groups are especially opposed to the increased traffic that they say would be generated by the center. A preliminary study of the project by the city Department of Transportation stated that more than 21,000 vehicle trips a day would be generated in an area that “currently experiences low-traffic volume,” referring to side streets around the project.

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Ed Duvall, leader of a Sylmar equestrian organization, said his group is generally pleased with the development as long as zoning will reflect light industrial uses.

City planners said the environmental report, which is the first step in changing the zoning, will be released for public scrutiny in August. Then come public hearings, likely alterations in the project plans and a city planning staff recommendation to the Planning Commission whether to approve the zone change request.

Final approval of the zone change rests with the City Council. Only then can construction begin.

THE SUNSET FARMS PLAN 262 ACRES IN THESE FOOTHILLS WOULD BE DEVELOPED INTO . . .

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1.9 million square feet of office and warehouse space

A motel, a 120-space recreation al vehicle park and a tract of 34 single-family homes

Parking for more than 6,000 cars

A source of irritation for nearby homeowners. “We know the area has to be developed, but we are not going to tolerate industry right next door,” one resident said. “Part of the charm of Sylmar is its rural atmosphere. It’s an equestrian community where people walk horses down the street. Now a developer wants to change all that.”

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