Long Oakmont road nears its end

Karen S. Kim

It was exactly 10 years ago this month that Glendale was

introduced to the Oakmont View V hillside development project, which

few at the time could have guessed would spawn controversy and

community division for a decade.

As it turned out, Oakmont was not unlike disputes other cities all

over the country dealt with: Developers wanted to build on a parcel

that homeowners hoped to preserve as open space.

The initial dispute ballooned into a full-fledged crusade by

homeowners, and finally ended on the City Council dais last week,

when Glendale agreed to purchase 238 acres of hillside land to

protect it from development. Glendale, along with the Santa Monica

Mountains Conservancy and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation

Authority will, pay Gregg's Artistic Homes $25.25 million for the

land.

By Tuesday afternoon, city officials were still finalizing the

deal.

Meanwhile, homeowners were breathing long-held sighs of relief.

"I think we will all look back on the 5 1/2 years and all the work

we did and be able to say -- when someone asks 'What did you ever do

to make a difference?' -- that we saved this beautiful hillside,"

said Marc Stirdivant, president of the Glendale-Crescenta Volunteers

Organized in Conserving the Environment (VOICE).

The road to a resolution for Oakmont was a long and rocky one,

pockmarked by expensive legal battles, community petitions and

extensive discussions by several different City Councils.

Problems first began when John Gregg and Salvatore Gangi,

developers who built the first four phases of Oakmont (about 311

homes), submitted plans for Oakmont V to the city Dec. 4, 1992. The

proposal was to build 572 single-family homes, or 623 single-family

homes, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes, on 238 acres of the

Verdugo Mountains.

"We've always thought that this project would be good for

Glendale," Lee Gregg said Tuesday. "There's a terrible shortage of

owner-occupied homes in Glendale. Glendale's completely stopped the

development of them."

But the project was poorly received by the public. Residents and

council members said Oakmont View V would be too big and too dense,

and would compromise Glendale's hillsides.

"It was the most environmentally insensitive project ever proposed

for Glendale," Stirdivant said, adding the project would have

destroyed 2,300 trees and hillside ridgelines and negatively affected

air quality, traffic and schools in the area.

At the time Oakmont View V's plans were submitted to the city,

Glendale was not a friendly place for hillside development anyway.

Based on community opposition to overbuilding on the hillsides, the

council in March 1990 instituted a two-year moratorium on hillside

development.

After the moratorium was lifted in April 1992, the city passed a

hillside ordinance that imposed stringent regulations on developers.

The Greggs sued the city over the ordinance, contending Oakmont

View V was in the works before it was passed. The new regulations

would have allowed the Greggs to build fewer than 100 homes on the property.

A court ruled that the Gregg's project was exempt from the new

standards.

Fifteen residents banded together in 1997 to form VOICE, an

organization whose sole purpose initially was to fight Oakmont. As

awareness about the Oakmont project grew throughout the city, so did

the group: Today, there are about 5,000 supporters of VOICE and its

mission of protecting urban wilderness in Glendale and the Crescenta

Valley.

Those who joined the crusade were not shy about letting the City

Council know what they thought. More than 700 residents showed up to

a hearing in March 2000 to protest the project. A petition of about

4,000 opponents of Oakmont View V -- a document that, end to end, was

about one-and-a-half football fields long -- was presented to the

council.

Finally, in March 2002, about 450 residents filed into the

Glendale Civic Auditorium, where the City Council was to decide

whether to approve or deny the project. The 11-hour meeting ended

with the council voting to reject the 572-home project. The Greggs

responded with a lawsuit against the city. The lawsuit was one of

three filed against Glendale in the past two years, with the Greggs

suing the city in August 2000 and again in November 2001.

Both sides agreed to mediation over the litigation, and months of

negotiations ended when a deal was struck Dec. 6.

The Greggs will get to break about even on the costs they incurred

over the past 10 years, and the city will get another parcel of land

that can't be developed.

"It's such a relief," Councilman Dave Weaver said. "To just be

able to forget about that. It's preserved now. It could have gone on

for years ... so just to see that all end, it gives us the chance to

focus on different issues."

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