Planners Leave Topanga Canyon Project in Shreds

Times Staff Writer

A developer hoping to build a 257-acre Topanga Canyon country club received a major setback Tuesday as Los Angeles County planners eliminated a hotel and shopping center from the $100-million proposal.

The county's Regional Planning Commission said that architect Christopher R. Wojciechowski can build 163 single-family homes, horse stables and tennis courts around a scaled-back golf course in a rolling valley near the rustic canyon's boundary with the San Fernando Valley.

But his planned three-story, 220-room hotel and a 17,000-square-foot shopping center next to Topanga Canyon Boulevard would permanently change the rural character of the 2,000-home mountain community, commissioners said.

The planners' action was a bitter blow to Wojciechowski, who has spent nearly 10 years designing his "Montevideo Country Club" development. He had envisioned it as becoming the premier private recreation project in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The 3-2 commission vote also stunned canyon homeowners who have worked almost as long to defeat the development. Residents have attended 27 county hearings over the years to protest the project's urban look. As late as Tuesday, they had predicted that the complete development would be approved.

In overturning the country club plan, planners also refused to rezone the grass and oak-covered site for resort use as Wojciechowski had sought. Instead, they ordered more restrictive "residential planned development" zoning that requires continuing county reviews as development occurs.

The commission's action must be reviewed and ratified by the County Board of Supervisors before it becomes effective. But opponents of the country club plan were nonetheless elated.

"It's a major victory," said Marty Corbett, president of the Topanga Town Council. "Since the developer has said all along he won't develop the project without the hotel, perhaps he won't and the whole problem is solved."

Project foe Robert Goldberg said: "This is basically the best possible thing we could have gotten other than an outright denial."

Jan Moore, former Town Council president, said canyon residents will support the housing development and a redesigned golf course plan that was requested by the commission. Planners indicated that 3.8 million cubic yards of grading proposed for the 18-hole course was too much.

Wojciechowski, hospitalized over the weekend with an undisclosed ailment, did not attend Tuesday's commission meeting. He has previously stressed that he could not build his $10-million golf course without income from the hotel.

John C. Rowlett, president of Wojciechowski, Rowlett & Naskar architectural and engineering firm, termed the commission's action "a very great disappointment."

"We hope to have our full plan heard in another forum by the supervisors," Rowlett said. He said his firm believes the proposed hotel would not have been an overly "intense" development for the canyon.

The planning commission disagreed.

"In my judgment, this proposal is not appropriate for the location. Perhaps a scaled-down version would be," Commissioner Lee Strong said.

Panel Chairwoman Betty Fisher said she opposed the hotel because entering and leaving the rugged canyon, with only one narrow road, is already hard enough for people who live there.

Commissioner Clinton C. Ternstrom pressed for elimination of Wojciechowski's proposed shopping center because of the access problem. He said Topanga Canyon Boulevard is "frightening. . . . Accidents happen with regularity."

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