Both Sides Claim Victory in Warner Ridge Battle

Times Staff Writer

Both sides in a dispute over development of a Woodland Hills high-rise office complex claimed victory Monday in a 2-year-old public-relations battle over Warner Ridge.

Nearby homeowners fighting construction of a nine-building project on the ridge say most residents of Woodland Hills now agree with them that the development would be disastrous for the community.

But neighbors in favor of the proposed $150-million development say they have wangled concessions from the developer that have turned the majority of the community into supporters of the project.

At issue is the fate of a 22-acre parcel on the northeast corner of Oxnard Street and DeSoto Avenue. Steep Warner Ridge now serves as a buffer between the fast-growing Warner Center business district and a 27-year-old neighborhood of single-family homes.

A development partnership is hoping to construct office buildings up to seven stories high on the site. Project planners say landscaping and a berm would shield the houses and nearby Pierce College from the offices.

Los Angeles city officials will resume their review of the proposal Thursday at a public hearing on the project's revised environmental impact report. The hearing is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. at Parkman Junior High School, 20800 Burbank Blvd.

The session is the first step in a city review process that could lead to a zone change and master plan amendment that would allow construction to begin.

Foes of the project contend that the development would destroy the neighborhood's residential feel and funnel thousands of cars a day along residential streets. They have demanded that Los Angeles city officials restrict construction on the site to single-family homes.

Opponents also say the project is too dense and the developer's environmental assessment does not detail problems its size would cause.

Advocates of the development disagree. They argue that the developer has bent over backward to design a project that would enhance the neighborhood with a minimum of disruption to either residences or the college.

"The facts are coming out for the first time," said Tom Friedman, a Carlton Terrace homeowner who supports the Warner Ridge proposal. "I think the developer has done tremendous improvements based on community input."

Friedman said Monday that about 250 of Carlton Terrace's 1,300 families support the project. Backers include the Pierce College agriculture department and owners of two homes whose back yards look down on Warner Ridge.

Pierce Prof. Mick Sears has written a letter of support stating that his department feels that the office high-rises "will cause the least amount of impact on the Pierce farm and the educational programs of the agriculture department."

"We'd all rather see houses built on Warner Ridge, but it's private property and we're all realistic enough to know residential is not going to happen," said Friedman, co-leader of a group called Concerned Carlton Terrace Residents.

Friedman said foes of the project have refused to negotiate with developer Jack Spound. Because of that, Friedman said, the community has lost bargaining power with Spound over such things as building height.

Those charges were flatly denied Monday by Robert Gross, a leader of opposition to the office project and a vice president of the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization.

Gross said the Warner Ridge project would have sailed through city channels two years ago had opponents not complained about potential traffic and aesthetic problems.

As a result, Spound has eliminated a project driveway on Oxnard Street, moved his tallest buildings away from homes and agreed to cover and landscape a storm drain alongside DeSoto Avenue, Gross said.

More than 250 families support his group's call for a less-dense residential development on Warner Ridge, he said.

Gross said he was angered by Sears' Pierce College letter. He said college officials had pledged that Pierce would stay neutral in the community dispute. Gross vowed to demand that College President David Wolf fire Sears.

Sears was unavailable for comment Monday about his letter. Wolf said Sears will not face disciplinary action, however.

"Mick Sears is speaking for the Ag Department," Wolf said. "I said quite publicly that the college administration did not plan to become entangled in the debate taking place in the community. We've been absolutely true to that."

Spound, meanwhile, said he is heartened by growing support for his development. "An increasing number of residents have commented they like the revised project," he said.

"We've sent out 12 different letters to the community. I've spent the last three weekends walking through the community, and it's been rewarding. People are pleased to see me again and discuss the changes."

Spound indicated that further project revisions may be in the works. "There's a long way to go," he said. "We'll continue to be accessible to the community."

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