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Frustrated Developer Vows to Build Canyon Project

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A developer whose plan to build luxury homes in a wooded ravine in Studio City brought out patrols of neighborhood activists and officials determined to stop him expressed frustration Tuesday that his opponents’ outburst of 11th-hour protests ignored his expensive, 12-year effort to meet city regulations and environmental objections.

Ending two weeks of refusal to comment, developer Fred Sahadi said he is determined to construct the 26-home project in Fryman Canyon because he has invested too much money to back out.

Sahadi’s plans for the site west of Laurel Canyon Boulevard have been in the works since 1978 and received final city approval in the mid-1980s.

The Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety issued Sahadi a permit to begin grading in 1988 and brush-clearing work had been scheduled to begin last week.

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Two weeks ago, however, the city issued a stop-work order after opponents of the project appealed to the Cultural Heritage Commission to designate the land as a culturally significant site, a last remnant of the natural state of the Santa Monica Mountains within the city.

Mayor Tom Bradley and City Councilman Michael Woo also announced their opposition to the project and state Department of Fish and Game officials said the development would need more permits.

Neighborhood activists and representatives of lawmakers and state game wardens have since patrolled the site, determined to block any grading work.

Sahadi denied that he ever intended to begin work on the site illegally. He said he was confused and upset by the sudden outcry after years of hearings and what he said were his good-faith dealings with the city and nearby residents.

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Plans for the development were scaled back from more than 40 houses to the current 26, and he agreed to donate 32 acres of the 63-acre parcel--the steep side wall of the ravine--to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, he said.

“I don’t know why, all of a sudden, after all these years, there is this sudden, very vocal opposition,” he said. “We have played by the rules.

“The question is, why are they doing this? What’s at stake so that out of the clear, blue sky they are coming out here and making an issue of it? One day I think it’s political. The next day I think it’s environmental.”

City officials admit that the controversy has been fueled by increasing complaints against mountain development. They concede that if Sahadi had begun work sooner, he would not have faced these problems.

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“He was probably a victim of our ever-worsening environment,” said Jane Ellison, legal counsel to Mayor Bradley. “There are many more homes there now and many more cars” than when the project was approved.

The ravine’s “year-round stream"--which opponents of the project have used to involve the Army Corps of Engineers in the project--is primarily highly polluted run-off from houses on Mulholland Drive, Sahadi said.

Sahadi called efforts to have the parcel designated as a culturally significant site “off-the-wall” and said that if such action were taken it would “exceed the boundaries of the commission in a way that would shock the sensitivities of an 8-year-old.”

He said he is determined to go ahead with the project, adding that he has spent $2.8 million on engineering and architectural drawings, posted $5 million in construction bonds and paid about $370,000 for city permits.

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