The Santa Clarita City Council will take up one of the most ticklish political issues in the young city's history tonight--a proposed agreement that would let a developer build more than 2,400 condominiums in exchange for $30 million in major road improvements.
But the proposal, which city planners view as a way to build badly needed roads, faces opposition from those who live near the proposed projects who say the developments are too large, poorly designed and will make traffic congestion even worse.
The developer, meanwhile, wants guarantees to build 3,258 units and has suggested the deal could not go forward unless all of the units are allowed.
At issue are four separate developments in Canyon Country proposed by G.H. Palmer Associates known as Santa Catarina, Vista Terrace, Westcreek and The Colony. The company wants an agreement that will guarantee the company the right to develop the four projects over 10 years.
The Planning Commission, however, refused March 6 to include The Colony in the agreement, saying the site of the 800-condominium project might be better suited for industrial development.
The 46-acre site is in unincorporated territory outside Santa Clarita but Palmer officials say they would ask the city to annex the property.
Gilbert M. Archuletta Jr., an attorney for Palmer, said Monday that the company hopes to persuade the City Council to overrule the Planning Commission's recommendation. He did, however, leave some room for further negotiations between the city and company over the size and design of The Colony.
"The four are still a package, but there's always room to talk," Archuletta said.
At several lengthy Planning Commission hearings, critics of the projects charged that the city was selling out to developers just to obtain roads. But City Manager George Caravalho said Monday that city planners had weighed the agreement carefully and were trying to maintain high development standards while extracting major concessions from the builder.
Caravalho noted that in November, Santa Clarita Valley voters overwhelmingly defeated Measure P, a $275-million bond to raise money for new roads. The measure would have raised annual residential property tax bills between $75 and $200.
Opponents of Measure P repeatedly said during the campaign that developers should pay more for roads, Caravalho said. Unable to turn to the voters for additional road funds, the city must look for other sources, such as developers, because state construction funds are in short supply, he said.
"How else do you make this work?" he said of the city's road-building plans.
The proposed agreement calls for a variety of road projects, most on the southeastern side of the city. Among other things, the company would have to build roads, widen roads, install traffic signals and realign existing streets.
City officials say that while the improvments are concentrated near the proposed developments, the effect would be to ease congestion throughout the city.
Tonight the council will discuss the projects with city planners, probably for several hours. Caravalho is recommending that the council wait until a second hearing March 27 to take public testimony on the proposed agreement.
The agreement, as approved by the Planning Commission, would allow the Santa Catarina project, 1,452 condominiums on 135 acres southwest of the city's Sky Blue Mesa neighborhood. Residents living near the project say the development will make traffic in the area worse, but city planners say the road improvements will reduce traffic congestion.
The Vista Terrace project calls for 103 condominiums on 24 acres near Golden Valley Road and Sierra Highway. The Westcreek development, 903 condominiums on 108 acres, has already been approved by the city but Palmer has asked the city to include the project in the agreement.