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Late Outcry Won’t Block Ravine Homes, Builder Vows : Fryman Canyon: Developer says he has spent too much money to give up. Foes admit the project was OK 12 years ago, but not today.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A developer, whose plan to build luxury houses 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 refusals 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 in the project to give up.

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 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 foes of the project appealed to the City 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 it would need more permits.

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

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

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

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

“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 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.

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

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“There is no doubt that given our current environmental standards, this project would not be approved today,” said Deputy Mayor Mark Fabiani. “And he made some key mistakes that have put him within the ambit of current standards.”

Sahadi defended his environmental efforts. “I wonder how much better the city would be if over the years every developer had donated half of his land to open space,” he said.

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

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

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Such a designation could force him to postpone work for a year.

He said he is determined to proceed with the project, saying he spent $2.8 million on engineering and architectural drawings, posted $5 million of construction bonds, and paid about $370,000 for city permits. He has a total of $8 million in outstanding debt against the property, he said.

He said he would have sold the land to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy earlier this year, but the conservancy was not willing to meet his price of about $14 million. After the sudden surge of opposition, the conservancy offered last week to buy the parcel for $8.7 million, he said, but now the “property is not for sale. I am going to build that project.”


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