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Controversial Hillside Project Faces Critical Hearing

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After seven years of controversy, Polygon Communities’ proposed 35-home hillside development faces a critical hearing today before the Glendale Planning Commission.

A number of key city officials, including two new City Council members, remain skeptical that changes in the developer’s scaled-down plans for a luxury subdivision are enough to warrant approval.

The Polygon II project helped generate a new hillside development ordinance, tied the city up in years of litigation and played a role in the election of the two new council members--Ginger Bremberg and Dave Weaver--this spring.

In interviews with The Times, three of the five planning commissioners said they see little lessening of the negative impact of the development that originally was rejected in 1993.

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The three, who said that the new proposal is not substantively different from the earlier one, are commission Chairman Robert McCormick, Commissioner Nancy Burke and Commissioner Efrain Olivares, who said he had agreed with the Planning Commission’s rejection of the 1993 proposal.

A fourth commissioner, Kurt Weissmuller, said he was still reviewing the revised proposal and another, Paul Burkhard, who voted against the project when the commission rejected it four years ago, could not be reached for comment.

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Polygon, after purchasing 28.8 acres from the Glendale Community College District in January 1989, initially applied for a 61-home development that later was trimmed to 47 and finally 40 when the council rejected it Feb. 9, 1993.

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In a heavily criticized deal with the City Council a year ago, Polygon agreed to suspend the $6-million lawsuit it filed after Glendale rejected the 40-home project in 1993. In exchange, the city agreed to consider a scaled-down proposal under the more relaxed rules in place before the city’s new hillside ordinance.

If the council ultimately rejects the new project, Polygon may continue its suit against the city, according to the pact.

City Atty. Scott H. Howard said the agreement was reached to minimize mounting legal costs for the litigation involving Polygon--well over $300,000.

Critics, including Bremberg and Weaver during their successful campaigns, faulted the council for what they called a back-room deal that compromised the ordinance enacted in 1993 to protect undeveloped land in the canyons and the ridges of north Glendale.

“That just cut the heart right out of the ordinance,” said Rob Sharkey, president of the Glenmore Canyon Homeowners Assn., which represents the neighborhood south of the proposed development.

“It upset all of us who had worked so hard to get the ordinance, and that includes council members Ginger Bremberg and Dave Weaver,” Sharkey said. “People who say you can’t fight city hall may be right, so what you do is you change city hall, and I think we did that.”

Polygon’s latest proposal, while calling for five fewer homes and a series of other mitigating measures, is not appreciably different from the earlier project, Planning Director John W. McKenna said. City planners have recommended that it be denied, he added.

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The City Council is expected to review the planning commissioners’ recommendation July 1.

Neither Polygon President Larry Olin nor John Condas, one of the firm’s attorneys, would offer comment on the issue. But both said company representatives would give a presentation to the commissioners in the Planning Department hearing room Monday.

In its report that recommends denial, the Planning Department concludes that the hilly site just west of the Glendale Freeway at Mountain Street is too small and rugged for the 35 homes proposed.

McKenna said a more acceptable number would be only about 14 to 17 homes, regardless of whether the project was judged under the new hillside ordinance or the more relaxed rules in place before it was passed.

In addition to traffic problems and massive grading that would lower a chaparral-covered ridge, city planners said the construction at the site would raise dust, cause noise and be disruptive for the disabled children who attend College View School at the development’s north entrance.


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