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Judge Rejects Bid to Stop Santa Clarita Subdivision

Times Staff Writer

In a defeat for slow-growth forces in booming northern Los Angeles County, a judge Tuesday approved a 1,100-home development in Santa Clarita that had been challenged by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.

The groups tried to block the project by arguing that there was not enough water to support the homes. But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs concluded that local officials and the developer, Newhall Land and Farming Co., had sufficiently studied the development’s impact.

Santa Clarita, Lancaster and Palmdale are the fastest growing areas in the county. The River Village development is one of several large housing projects expected to add about 63,000 homes to the North County region in the next 20 years.

The growth boom would get another jolt if the owners of Magic Mountain decide to close the venerable amusement park in Valencia. Real estate experts said the park would probably attract interest from home developers.

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River Village is far smaller than the Newhall Ranch and Centennial developments, two developments along the Golden State Freeway that are slated for more than 20,000 homes each.

But critics had focused attention on River Village and a nearby 2,500-home development, citing what they say are environmental problems.

The Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Santa Clara River and the California Water Impact Network filed the lawsuit last year trying to block River Village, contending that there was insufficient water to support such a large project.

They alleged that the River Village project provided too little protection for the last free-flowing river in the county and that the development would negatively affect animal and plant species, including the western spadefoot toad, the San Diego black-tailed jackrabbit and the hollyleaf cherry scrub plant.

The environmentalists argued that the developer’s environmental impact report did not adequately assess the subdivision’s effect on the Santa Clara River.

But in a 33-page decision made public Tuesday, Janavs disagreed.

“A review of the record discloses extensive discussion in the EIR and staff reports concerning the encroachment into the Santa Clara River and the impacts to it,” the judge wrote.

Marlee Lauffer, a spokeswoman for Newhall Land, said the lawsuit was a clear attempt to slow development in the Santa Clarita Valley.

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“Several previous rulings have addressed the water issue, yet these environmental groups continue to use that issue in litigation,” Lauffer said. “It’s clear to many people that the groups who are bringing these lawsuits, their intent is to stop development and important infrastructure improvements rather than protecting the environment.”

Environmentalists are still trying to block the nearby 2,500-home project, called West Creek, contending that a toxic plume from a Cold War-era munitions plant threatens water supplies.

Another fight is looming over the 5,800-home Las Lomas development, which is slated for the hills above the junction of the Golden State and Antelope Valley freeways.

Some community leaders have argued that the interchange is already too congested with commuters during rush hour and that placing a large development next to it would only cause more gridlock. The land is now in unincorporated county territory, but Los Angeles and Santa Clarita have talked about gaining control over zoning so that they can oversee what is built there.

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To address concerns, River Village was downsized twice after nine public hearings before Santa Clarita’s Planning Commission and three before the City Council.

The single-family homes and condos would be built on 700 acres near Bouquet Canyon and Soledad Canyon roads.

Nearly 800 acres will be preserved for recreation and open space, and 16,000 square feet can be developed for commercial uses.

Under the terms of the project’s approval, Newhall Land agreed to contribute $25 million to the construction of an east-west connector that would help ease growing traffic congestion across the Santa Clarita Valley.

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Begin text of infobox

Another development moves forward

A judge has rejected an effort to block River Village, one of several large developments slated for northern Los Angeles County

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1. Centennial -- 23,000 homes

2. Newhall Ranch -- 20,885 homes

3. River Village -- 1,100 homes

4. Las Lomas -- 5,800 homes

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5. Ritter Ranch -- 7,200 homes

6. Anaverde -- 5,200 homes


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