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Van Nuys Residents Seek Strict Growth Limits

Times Staff Writer

Van Nuys homeowner representatives on Wednesday criticized a city Planning Department proposal that could lead to a 33% population increase in their community because of apartment construction.

Ironically, the protests came at a hearing, which was attended by about 800 people, to solicit comments about a revised Van Nuys-North Sherman Oaks community plan that calls for controlling growth by limiting apartment and commercial construction. But homeowner leaders said the proposals do not go far enough.

“The increases in population will stretch our services, our infrastructure even more,” said Wilford Ross, a member of the Van Nuys Homeowners Assn. board of directors. “We can’t allow building that will increase our population until we increase our police, our fire departments.”

The four-hour hearing at Van Nuys Junior High School drew a stream of homeowners and developers who commented--some critically, some positively--on a detailed list of Los Angeles Planning Department recommendations to reduce building densities in many portions of Van Nuys.

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The recommended plan would allow multifamily housing construction to increase Van Nuys’ population to 174,291 people. In 1986, the last year for which figures are available, the city estimated that 116,938 people lived in Van Nuys.

From 1980 to 1986, Van Nuys underwent the most intensive apartment construction in the city, with 5,666 units built. And Robert Sutton, the city planner in charge of the revisions, said that if zoning is left untouched, Van Nuys’ population would soar to 229,000.

The recommendations still face several months of fine-tuning and must be approved by the Planning Commission and City Council. They would make zoning designations consistent with the Van Nuys community plan.

The Van Nuys-North Sherman Oaks area is the last of 35 Los Angeles planning areas to undergo such a community plan revision. Such revisions were mandated citywide by a 1979 state law.

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For years, discrepancies between the general plan and zoning laws have prompted struggles between developers and owners of single-family homes. Homeowner activists almost always advocate following the general plan, which they helped to draft, while developers favor zoning designations, which in most cases permit more intensive building.

Representatives of the Van Nuys Homeowners Assn. and other smaller neighborhood groups generally support zoning changes that will retain blocks of single-family homes. They praised efforts to reduce the density of apartment buildings but said such proposals should be scaled back even further.

Another significant recommendation in the plan would limit building heights along Van Nuys and Sepulveda boulevards, Sutton said. The revised zoning regulations would cap most construction along the streets at three stories, or 45 feet. Zoning regulations now permit six-story buildings along the boulevards. And along certain sections of the streets, building heights are unlimited.

Several landowners complained at the hearing that the “down-zoning,” or reduction in building densities, would hurt their property values.


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