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Commission Backs Plans for 162-Acre Cemetery

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Soon, the first glimpse that homebound travelers catch of Simi Valley as they cross Santa Susana Pass may be of a lush, green graveyard.

The city’s Planning Commission has unanimously approved plans to create a 162-acre cemetery in the hills north of Simi Valley Freeway between Yosemite Avenue and Kuehner Drive. The project, which could also bring up to 345 new homes to the area, now goes to the City Council for final approval.

Backers of Mt. Sinai Memorial Park billed the cemetery as a way to preserve the park-like appearance of the land, owned by the nonprofit Sinai Temple. Even after development, the hills would be covered with grass and trees, they said.

Instead of tombstones, which could stick out against the hillsides, the park will use name plaques lying flat against the ground.

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Commissioners liked the project’s relatively minor impact on the area.

“Coming in with the trees and the greenery, it’s going to be a nice gateway to the city,” Commissioner Michael Piper said Thursday. “Particularly with the flat markers, it’s not like something from ‘Poltergeist.’ ”

Robert Levonian, whose Glendale-based company has pursued plans for the cemetery for more than five years, added that unlike other development projects, the memorial park would transform the property gradually. Although offices and a chapel would be built immediately, the cemetery would take about 200 years to fill.

“One hundred years from now, more than half of our 160 acres of property will remain untouched,” he said.

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In addition to the cemetery, 135 acres of the site will be reserved as open space. Another 76 acres--designated as residential space that could contain up to 345 homes--will be sold to developers to help finance creation of the park.

Despite the project’s size and sensitive location, it has so far encountered little opposition, winning the support of all four of the city’s neighborhood councils.

In fact, the only criticism voiced at the Planning Commission’s Wednesday meeting came from a resident who asked that a proposed road running through the project not be renamed.

He did not get his wish. Some commissioners preferred the road’s present name of Douglas Drive, taken from Douglas Aircraft Co., which once owned an employee recreation center at the site. But the panel decided to allow the park’s developers to rename the road Mt. Sinai Drive.

City Councilwoman Barbara Williamson said that while she liked what she had seen of the project, she was concerned that it did not contain a public cemetery component. Simi Valley, she said, needs more burial space, and the city must address the issue soon.

“I’m concerned with what we’re going to do in the future,” she said. “If we wait 20 years, it will be too late. . . . We’re running out of room.”

Edward Kamenir, chairman of the temple’s new site committee, said that with council approval, the cemetery could open for business in about a year. Simi Valley, he said, is an ideal site for a new graveyard.

“We find that the population in the L. A. Basin is gradually moving west and north,” he said. “We now extend this service because we see the need for it.”

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