Rancho Residents Mount Campaign to Protect Equestrian Life Style

Times Staff Writer

Dick Jones believes nothing should come between a man and his horse--especially not industrial buildings or city zoning laws.

"What we've got is too precious to let it get away from us," said Jones, 65, a Burbank real estate agent who lives with his wife in Burbank's Rancho area, a residential community where people appear to walk their horses more often than their dogs. Like Jones, many of the area's 4,000 residents have backyard stables for their horses.

"When people who don't live here drive down the street, they stop with these amazed looks on their faces when they see horses next to them," said Jones, who owns two horses. "There's nothing like this place anywhere else. We're not going to let it get away without a fight."

Officials in Middle

Jones and other horse lovers have mounted a determined campaign against developers who want to build industrial projects in their neighborhood, projects that have nothing to do with horses. The residents fear their life style will vanish in the path of such developments.

Because of zoning laws that allow light industry development in some parts of the Rancho community, officials say they are caught in the middle.

The light industry zones were established by a previous Burbank administration specifically to accommodate commercial stables, which are not allowed in residential zones. Apparently, no one anticipated the problems the designation would bring.

Although the Burbank City Council voted against one proposed project--a public storage facility--last month, other developers are moving forward with plans for light industry complexes that also are permitted under the zoning, officials said.

Most of the projects are planned for an 11-acre parcel known as the Mariposa Triangle, along narrow Mariposa Street, one of the main access routes for horses into Griffith Park.

Evaluating Plans

The city is evaluating plans to build several concrete buildings for a 13,400-square-foot industrial park in the triangle. Residents say another developer wants to erect a manufacturing building at the end of Mariposa. And John Bell, the developer who unsuccessfully sought city approval for his three-building, 147,700-square-foot public storage facility, is considering alternate plans.

The council is scheduled to consider allowing only residential or planned industrial development in the triangle at its Dec. 22 meeting, officials said. Each proposal for a planned industrial development would have to have a public hearing before the council would consider approving it.

Each time an issue affecting the area comes before the City Council, hundreds of residents turn out in force.

Sharon Reed, 44, a Rancho resident for 14 years, is usually among them, even though she does not own a horse.

"Hearing the horses coming down the street, you would swear you were out in the country and not in Burbank," Reed said. "There are drawbacks, of course. You can't walk outside barefoot in the middle of the night. But it is so nice to have this kind of atmosphere."

The Place to Live

Reed said she cannot imagine living anywhere else.

Nor can Jones, who heads the Rancho area's homeowners' group.

"This is it," Jones said. "We moved here from Los Angeles after our kids grew up so we could be closer to our horses. Before that, we were spending more time here than at home."

Like other residents, Jones seems passionately devoted to the equestrian life. "A horse is 1,000 pounds of animal that's your friend," said Jones, who has walked with a limp since a particularly nasty fall from a horse last year. "It's a part of the family."

Sacrificing horses to industrial development in the neighborhood would be a tragedy, he said.

"You don't go into Marina del Rey and take out the boat docks. You don't go up on a ski slope and put a lumberyard. There used to be 20 stables in this neighborhood. Now there's only one. They just keep whacking away at this land and, once it's gone, it's gone."

Bell, who has not been allowed to develop his property, is just as upset.

"I just assumed when I bought this property and found out what it was zoned that we could do all these different kinds of development," Bell said.

"The city has found a very clever way to ensure that my property is not developed without saying they won't allow us to develop it," he said.

Despite pleas from residents who want to restrict the area to horses and single-family homes, most members of the City Council are reluctant to go that far. They said restricting the usage could open the city to legal action by developers who own property there.

Would Reduce Values

"Because of a zoning glitch, these types of projects would bring down the property values in one of the most desirable communities in Burbank," said Mayor Michael R. Hastings, who lives in the Rancho area and favors limiting industrial development.

Except for the horses, the Rancho area resembles any other suburban neighborhood of single-family homes. Most of the well-kept, single-story houses date back to the 1930s and 1940s. Stables are in the backyards and, in most cases, are not visible from the street.

Burbank city officials have long recognized the uniqueness and desirability of the Rancho area, a short driving distance from the city's Media District, where several movie and television studios are headquartered.

Real estate agents say single-family homes in the Rancho area sell for as much as $40,000 more than houses in other Burbank neighborhoods. A network of bridges and trails gives the community direct access to 53 miles of horse trails in Griffith Park.

Area resident Carolyn Davies said she remembered how much of the area was vacant 30 years ago when she moved in with her family. "It was a wonderful area to bring a family up in," she said. "With the squirrels and possums and horses and raccoons, it's like living in the country.

'Feel Threatened'

"But we've only got so much acreage, and now we feel like we're being threatened."

Burbank City Atty. Douglas C. Holland has told the council that zoning in the area can be changed from industrial to residential use as long as the developers do not lose money on their properties.

"Although a property owner may not get a profit at all, that is not the controlling factor," Holland said. "But, apparently, it offends the sense of fairness of the council to downzone property."

The council is concerned as well about the effect of changing the zoning for Photo Sonics, a firm also in the Mariposa Triangle. Photo Sonics manufactures high-speed cameras and photographic instrumentation equipment, and does a "substantial amount of defense work for the government," said company President John Keil.

City officials and residents said Photo Sonics has been a good neighbor.

"Downzoning the area around Photo Sonics and devaluing that property is not a way to thank them," Vice Mayor Al F. Dossin said.

Bell called the dispute over development in the triangle "overkill on an area so small."

"It's a mystery to me why this is happening," he said. "Everybody would like me to fall off the world. Everybody would like me to go away. But I don't intend to."

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