In a move critics said was unfair, Los Angeles city planners on Monday proposed rezoning more than 2,100 acres of commercial and industrial property in Chatsworth to direct major projects to nearby Porter Ranch and along Devonshire Street instead.
The proposed zoning changes, which would affect about 1,000 property owners, roughly halve the amount of development allowed in the area south of the Simi Valley-San Fernando Valley Freeway between Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Tampa Avenue. The area is now home to small manufacturing plants and office buildings.
Planners hope that limiting development in that area will encourage locating larger projects in Porter Ranch or along Devonshire, where the impact of increased traffic can be offset more easily.
"We are encouraging higher-intensity uses in those areas because we have specific plans there and can better monitor the impact of more intense development," hearing examiner R. Nicolas Brown said. "We can't monitor things that well outside of the specific plan areas."
But 50 business owners and community leaders who packed a public hearing at Lawrence Junior High School on Monday night lashed out at city planners, saying they were robbing property owners of their right to develop their land. They charged that the Planning Department was downzoning their property to offset the 6 million square feet of commercial development that is proposed in the Porter Ranch specific plan.
Referring to the developers of that proposed project, community activist Walter Prince said, "This leaves Porter Ranch an absolute clear field."
Prince is a member of the community group PRIDE, which battled unsuccessfully to prevent the Porter Ranch project from being built in the hills above Chatsworth.
Prince said that the city's plan is shortsighted because it would change the rules for no good reason. He said the area proposed for downzoning has already proved viable for development and that small businesses would be harmed if the measure is finalized.
"They're fixing something that ain't broke," Prince said.
Brown said almost 90% of the existing buildings in the area affected by the zone change are already smaller than would be allowed under new zoning.
But if density in the area were allowed to double, traffic congestion would become unmanageable, according to a study prepared last year as part of the Chatsworth-Porter Ranch District Plan, a city document to guide development in the area over the next 20 years.
With more intense development concentrated in Porter Ranch and along Devonshire Street, congestion could be eased through road improvements and a commuter rail station, Brown said. He stressed that any decrease in density in the commercial and industrial area would not cause any corresponding increase in density in Porter Ranch or along Devonshire.
Even so, many at the hearing said they thought they had been sold out in favor of Porter Ranch.
"I think they're selling us down the river," said Ken Carey, who has owned a steel shop on Canoga Avenue since 1970.
Under the plan discussed Monday, floor area ratios would drop from 1.5 to 0.85 for commercial properties and from 1.5 to 0.6 for industrial properties. Floor area ratio is the ratio of a building's square footage to the size of the lot on which it is built. For instance, a 100-square-foot building on a 200-square-foot lot would have a floor area ratio of 0.5.
Floor area ratios in Porter Ranch and along Devonshire would not change.
The plan will be presented to the Planning Commission in April.