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Builder Vows to Trim Size of Sherman Oaks Tract

Times Staff Writer

A developer sought Wednesday to end a controversy over use of Sherman Oaks’ last major open area by pledging to drastically scale back a proposed housing tract that neighbors have fought for eight years.

Developer Paul E. Griffin III said 18 multimillion-dollar estates will be constructed on a hilly 56-acre site approved for 31 homes.

As a result, bulldozers will only cut about half as much dirt from the sides of hills above Longridge Avenue to create construction pads for the project, Griffin said.

Residents of Longridge and nearby Alomar Drive have protested previous development proposals that have called for the grading of more than 1 million cubic yards of earth.

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Homeowners were joined in their fight eight months ago by Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Woo, who represents the Sherman Oaks area. Woo termed the 31-home grading plan “a disaster waiting to happen,” and asked landowner George Bergmann to redesign the project.

Instead, Bergmann last month sold the site and its subdivision tract map to Griffin for $3 million.

Developer Reacted to Foes

Griffin said he decided to scrap the 31-lot subdivision after learning the extent of the neighborhood’s opposition.

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“I was a little shocked, yes, to learn of the problems,” Griffin said. “We didn’t understand the extent of the hostility until we were well into the purchase.”

When he heard that Woo was also troubled by the 31-home plan, “we decided it wasn’t just a few people upset,” Griffin said.

Nearby homeowners said Wednesday they are pleased by the reduction. But they said they are waiting to see the revised grading plan before endorsing Griffin’s venture.

“We are examining his offer,” said Turnley Walker, chairman of a 200-family community group called Longridge/Alomar Neighborhood Committee, which fought the larger development.

“We’ve hired our own engineer and soils engineer,” Turnley said. “We’re not sure the new plan has automatically taken care of the things that bother us so greatly--the total alteration of the mountain terrain here.”

Homeowners also worry about storm runoff from the development site into neighborhood streets, said Walker, who has lived for 31 years next to the brush-covered ridge-and-canyon area.

“Once a decision is made on developing this site, this remarkable piece of mountain terrain is gone forever,” he said.

The Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. recently said Woo is soft on developers, but Walker acknowledged the councilman’s role in the Longridge development rollback.

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“He’s shown steadiness and strength in this really difficult situation, and we’re extremely grateful,” Walker said.

Woo could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But a spokeswoman said he has not taken a position on the new plan.

“The councilman is basically facilitating negotiations between the developer and the homeowners,” aide Julie Jaskol said. “He’s pleased to see some progress, some movement occurring. He’s only going to support something that residents can support.”

Tract Map Valid

But Woo’s support might not be necessary.

Griffin said he was assured by the city attorney’s office that he has the right to use the 31-home subdivision plan. The tract map was approved by the city in 1982 and is valid through Nov. 17.

“But if I tried to shove 31 units down Sherman Oaks’ throat, no one would want to work with me anymore on future developments,” said Griffin, 32, vice president of Griffin Homes, an 84-year-old family-owned business.

“I might have won the battle, but I’d have lost the war,” he said.

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Griffin predicted that his company will have little difficulty selling the $3 million luxury homes it plans to build. He said some of the 18 lots may be sold to other builders interested in constructing custom luxury homes.

Griffin said his Calabasas-based company builds about 1,000 houses a year. The company’s San Fernando Valley-area developments include a 325-unit housing project in Pacoima called “Griffin Glenoaks,” whose first 87 families will begin moving in next week, he said.

“It’s a lot of fun going into Sherman Oaks and working something out,” Griffin said. “But the Pacoima project is giving me more personal pleasure, in terms of doing something for people.”


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