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Homeowners Want to Raze Neighborhood for a New Mall : Growth: A Sylmar group seeks to rezone a residential area for commercial use. The area has lost its rural atmosphere and many see an opportunity to sell.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rather than fighting to save their homes, a group of disillusioned Sylmar residents has launched a campaign to destroy their once-rural neighborhood of ranch-style houses to make room for a shopping center.

The residents, some of whom still own horses, say they are giving up on the area because it is no longer safe to ride in the streets of Sylmar, once the rural outback of Los Angeles.

They have gathered the signatures of 42 of the 58 landowners in the 40-acre neighborhood--bounded by Polk Street, Dronfield Avenue, Astoria Street and Borden Avenue--asking that the rapidly urbanizing area be rezoned to attract a shopping mall developer.

“It was like living in the country when we moved here 28 years ago,” said Lois Manthey, a retired secretary. “Our daughters used to ride their horses right down Polk Street. It was a nice lifestyle.”

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“It’s something Lois and I’ve been working on for eight years,” said Jeannie Sikkel, a retired nurse. “It got so that it wasn’t safe to back out our driveway with the cattle trailer anymore.”

Over the years, as condominiums and mini-malls enveloped their neighborhood, Manthey and many of her neighbors sold their horses and other farm animals.

“It’s changed entirely,” Manthey said. “We’re kind of an island. This is no longer a rural area.”

“I can’t ride my horse down the street anymore,” said Richard Miller, a brewery worker who is serving as the group’s spokesman. “It isn’t safe.”

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“We’re just locked in,” said his wife, Charlotte, a nurse. “I don’t want to risk riding down the street and breaking my old bones or hurting our horses. This is no longer a place to keep our horses.”

Shopping mall proponents unveiled their plan for the first time this week at a meeting of the Sylmar Community Plan Advisory Committee, a panel of residents appointed 18 months ago by Councilman Ernani Bernardi to make recommendations for a new community plan.

With a 30.7% population increase, Sylmar was the city’s fastest growing community during the 1980s.

It now has an estimated 70,000 residents and it is the advisory committee’s job to recommend the shape of future growth.

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“A shopping center has been proposed before,” said advisory committee Chairwoman Margaret Whittington. “But this is the first we had heard that the people who actually lived on the property wanted their land to become a mall.”

The residents will meet with a subcommittee of the citizens panel on Tuesday to discuss their proposal.

Most residents in the neighborhood are nearing retirement age, Sikkel said, and many want to take the profits from the sale of the houses and move to areas that are still rural.

“We’d like to move up to Ukiah in three or four years after my husband retires,” she said.

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It may be easier and more profitable to sell the large properties in the area--some as big as two acres--to a developer, they said.

In addition to benefiting them by providing a buyer, the residents said they believe a mall will improve the community.

“There’s no place to shop around here,” Richard Miller said. “I can’t buy a pair of shoes or a decent pair of pants anywhere in Sylmar. We have to drive 30 miles round-trip to the Northridge mall to see a movie. We don’t have many decent restaurants around here.”

The residents envision a mall that would include a major department store, movie theaters, restaurants, bookstores, sporting goods stores and other small shops.

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Eventually, they said they would like adjacent Sylmar Park incorporated into the plan.

“The mall could be wrapped around the park . . . and the park could be updated to include a skating rink, open-air theater, miniature golf and other family-oriented activities,” Miller said. “Let’s give the kids here something to do, now that they can’t ride horses,” he said.

Whittington and other advisory committee members said they, too, would like to have a mall in Sylmar. “It’s a nice idea, but it won’t work,” Whittington said.

Streets in the area could not handle the heavy traffic a mall would create, she said.

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In addition, “the Chamber of Commerce has had a lot of trouble even attracting a chain restaurant to Sylmar,” Whittington said. “I don’t see a department store wanting to come in here.”

However, residents remain convinced their idea will be received favorably by the community.

“Several developers have been interested in this property,” Sikkel said. “If we can just get the zone changed to commercial, we can work around any problems.”


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