Windermere Place dispute drags on

The La Cañada Flintridge City Council voted Monday to continue a public hearing on a proposed two-story, hillside home in a Flintridge neighborhood.

The contentious development dispute, which has dragged on for four years, is centered around an empty 1-acre lot and unimproved public street between Hampstead Road and Inverness Drive, just south of Sugar Loaf Drive. Longtime La Cañada resident Philip Merritt bought the property in 2005 and submitted development plans to the Planning Department the following year.

Merritt wants to access his new home via Windermere Place, a public street to be built at his expense but maintained by the city. Windermere Place is a "paper road," charted by Sen. Frank Flint on maps that date back to the 1920s, but never developed.

Initially, the city refused to process a building application that included Windermere Place as the access road to the property. In 2008, Merritt sued and the city settled, absorbing his legal costs and agreeing that the proposal could not be rejected on the basis of Windermere Place alone.

The Planning Commission in April approved 4 to 0 the latest iteration of the project, which includes a 6,836-square-foot (7,447 square feet with volume space), two-story house that's 117 feet wide and 34 1/2 feet tall.

However, four neighborhood families filed two appeals arguing that the city should not be responsible for a street that serves a single residence, and that the proposed house was not consistent with the character of the neighborhood.

Neighbor Cecelie Boysen described the house as "humungous," and said the long construction phase would be disruptive.

"I don't want three years of my backyard spoiled because of this project," Boysen said.

Another appellant, Soren Madsen, told City Council members that a environmental impact report should be prepared. And a third, Nagi Sous, said the design of Windermere Place resembled a freeway on-ramp.

Merritt countered that the proposed development was a "simple single-family residence" comparable to many other homes in La Cañada. He has spent $100,000 on studies to ensure the feasibility of the project, Merritt said, adding that he felt personally attacked by his neighbors who were trying to thwart development of the lot.

"The neighbors opposing my project, and indeed there are only four of them, have filed oppositions and appeals to block the building of my home," Merritt said. "Certain of them, namely Dr. Boysen and Dr. Madsen, have done their best over the last five years to confuse, confabulate and disseminate deliberately inaccurate and erroneous information in a propaganda campaign to block my project for their own personal gain."

The hearing will resume at the Aug. 2 City Council meeting.

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