Several developers in the Sunland-Tujunga area, including major builder Dale Poe, won a reprieve Thursday when the Los Angeles city Planning Commission voted 5 to 0 to exempt their projects from a sweeping plan to reduce building densities on steep hillsides in the eastern San Fernando Valley.
Before the commission was the issue of cutting the building densities allowable in 17 steep areas in Sunland-Tujunga, Lake View Terrace and Sun Valley.
The commission had voted July 12 to reduce the densities on nearly 2,000 acres of hilly property in the East Valley, but also asked its staff--amid complaints from developers--to take a second look at its original proposal to sharply cut building rights in additional areas.
The planning department estimated that its original recommendations would reduce the number of potential new residents in the area by 20,000 to 25,000. Proponents argued that reduced densities are needed to protect the unique, rustic character of the hillsides, preserve their mountain vistas and prevent overloading of city roads, sewers and fire services.
The planning department staff returned Thursday with a compromise that recommended moderating the original proposal on many of the restudied parcels, and those recommendations were adopted.
But the commission went a step further, agreeing to maintain the existing zoning on any properties on which the owners filed subdivision plans with the city before July 12. The planning staff estimated that this grandfather clause would affect six projects.
Ted Stein, commission vice president, said he voted for the grandfather clause because he was concerned about "the fairness of changing the rules of the game" for developers who were already in the city planning approval process.
The exemption allows Poe to proceed with plans to build 119 single-family houses in Tujunga on a 60-acre site.
If the commission had adopted the planning department staff's original recommendation, the Poe project would have been limited to one-third that size, said Edward M. Barr, a city planning official.
Arline De Sanctis, an aide to Councilman Joel Wachs, who initiated the plan to cut hillside building, expressed disappointment. "Most of these areas in question were ones we had the most concerns about," she said.
Sylvia Gross, land use chairman for the Sunland-Tujunga Assn. of Residents, said: "We lost a couple of minor battles but won the war. We've saved most of our community from being Glendale-ized."
The commission's plan still must be approved by the City Council, however. And even if the grandfather clause wins final approval, developers will need other approvals from either the council, the commission or both, providing more opportunities for reducing their projects, Gross said.