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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Study Says Development on Munitions Site May Pose Risk

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The largest development proposal in the city’s six-year history would carve into a major ridgeline, generate traffic and may pose a health risk because of 80 years of munitions manufacturing on the site, according to environmental documents released this week.

The Porta Bella development will include 3,238 homes on a 996-acre site south of Soledad Canyon Road and east of San Fernando Road, adjacent to Santa Clarita’s proposed civic center and City Hall building.

In the 524-page draft environmental impact report, concern was raised over the possibility of heavy metals in the soil from the manufacturing and testing of ammunition, explosives and flares at the Bermite division of the Whitaker Corp. munitions site from 1906 to 1987.

Fourteen hazardous waste sites of munitions-related byproducts were identified by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control and federal Environmental Protection Agency on the property. Thirteen have been cleared, and cleanup activities are continuing on the final site.

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Yet there are “continuing concerns” that additional contamination may exist.

Sam Veltri, project manager for Porta Bella’s developer, Northholme Partners, downplayed the long-term effects of the Bermite munitions operations.

“It’s a psychological stigma we’re trying to get over,” Veltri said.

He said that ammunition manufacturing occurred in limited areas and that Whitaker Corp., owner of the property, has spent $8 million in cleanup efforts.

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The environmental report also notes two roads that are part of the Porta Bella development plan would cut through a primary ridgeline easily seen from both Soledad Canyon and San Fernando roads. There would be similar cuts across three secondary ridgelines. Santa Clarita’s hillside ordinance generally prohibits development from intruding upon city ridges--especially highly visible ones.

Porta Bella is projected to draw 9,253 residents into its 3,238 homes. The ensuing traffic is expected to place additional pressure on 33 city intersections when completed, although proposed road improvements in the area are expected to reduce 75% of that impact.

The report warns that construction is predicted to adversely affect air quality and may create asbestos dust and toxic emissions.

With plans for 1,678 single-family homes and 1,560 condominiums and apartments, Porta Bella may set the tone for future large-scale projects in Santa Clarita.

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“This is certainly the most significant project to come before Santa Clarita in terms of the number of units, the mix of uses and where it’s located in the center of the city,” said Kevin Michel, Santa Clarita senior planner.

The last major project considered by Santa Clarita failed to obtain Planning Commission approval after three years of discussions between the city and Santa Fe Development and Mortgage Co.

Santa Fe Development wanted to build 2,400 homes on a 1,296-acre site west of Sand Canyon and offered the city 65 acres of commercial land valued at about $26 million. The developer later asked for 1,725 homes and offered a 40-acre high school site, a 15-acre park, a 10-acre elementary school site and an equestrian center.

Planning commissioners said they would not allow more than 350 to 400 homes for the project.

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Greater leeway will be given to Porta Bella because it is located in the center of the city, according to Jerry Cherrington, city planning commissioner.

The City Council is scheduled to receive an update on Porta Bella from Northholme Partners at a study session tonight.


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