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Suit Seeks to Block Project at Fair Site

Times Staff Writer

Environmentalist and homeowner groups sued Los Angeles County on Thursday in an attempt to overturn its approval of 150 homes on the former site of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Agoura.

The lawsuit by the Sierra Club and the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation alleges that the county ignored state environmental laws March 2 when it gave builder and co-owner Brian Heller the go-ahead to increase the number of homes that can be built on the hilly 320-acre site, which the National Park Service wants used as parkland.

The suit asks Los Angeles Superior Court to order the county to rescind approval. It also seeks to prohibit the county from granting permits allowing Heller to start construction.

The Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 1 to allow Heller 150 homes instead of 103, despite pressure from U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) and Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Tarzana). The two lawmakers wanted the land purchased for public use. They said that increasing the development potential of the land would make it too expensive for the National Park Service and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a state parks agency.

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The suit charges that the county’s approval was based on an environmental impact report that did not meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.

The report did not thoroughly evaluate the project’s effects on schools, oak trees, drainage and views, among other things, the suit said.

Moreover, the environmental report “did not evaluate the alternative of public acquisition of the subject parcel . . . despite the longstanding interest of the National Park Service and the conservancy in this alternative use,” the suit said.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who represents the area and supports the development, was unavailable for comment late Thursday.

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But in a letter to The Times published Monday, Antonovich wrote that using the county’s zoning powers “to restrict the use of private property so that the National Park Service could buy it more cheaply . . . would be both illegal and unethical.”

County attorneys advised the board at the time of its decision that Heller would have grounds to sue if he were held to 103 homes so the land could be bought as parkland.

Heller also argued successfully that he was entitled to more homes because the previous county plan was based on an imprecise measurement of slopes on the property. Heller hired an engineer to make a more precise measurement that showed there was enough flatland to allow him to build more houses.

The lawsuit attacked those revised measurements, saying the method behind them was not evaluated in the environmental impact report. Board approval of Heller’s measurements “destroys the integrity of the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains Area Plan and the county’s general plan because it is based on unstated, unadopted and inconsistent methodology and criteria,” the suit said.

Antonovich aide Dave Vannatta defended the revised slope measurements. In future cases, Vannatta said, such revisions could conceivably show that a developer should be allowed fewer homes, depending on the land’s topography.

“The bottom line is that when I first took office in 1980, the property could have been developed to as many as 234 homes,” Antonovich wrote in his letter to The Times. “Today it is limited to 150, or less than two-thirds of the 1980 allowance.”

Heller had sought 159 units, but Antonovich had the number reduced to 150 to create an open-space buffer zone between the development and adjacent Park Service land.


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