2006-10-05 / Community

Agoura Hills' Triangle Ranch will appeal

By Stephanie Bertholdo bertholdo@theacorn.com

Sage Community Group, the development firm that has been wrangling with the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning for approval to build a housing development in rural Agoura's Cornell Road area, will appeal the department's latest de- nial to the Board of Supervisors.

The Triangle Ranch develop- ment is situated on 320 acres off Kanan and Cornell roads in the Medea Valley area. Development there falls under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County.

The proposed project has been redesigned several times and re- duced from 81 houses to 71 and down to its current configuration of 66 homes.

The property is in a sensitive ecological zone and must comply with the Santa Monica Mountains North Area Plan, approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2000 to rein in extensive development in rural areas and protect a 32- square-mile stretch of unspoiled land from Hidden Hills to Westlake Village.

Opponents of the project say no more than 44 homes would be acceptable under the North Area Plan. Commissioners did not re- ject the 66-home proposal but wanted to further address various changes to the project.

"We believe we have ad- dressed the comments made dur- ing the previous hearings, and that we are consistent with the North Area Plan," said Penny Bohannon Boehm, a spokesperson for Tri- angle Ranch.

Boehm said Sage had made significant improvements to the project since officials last re- viewed the project at the end of June.

Boehm said 88 percent of the 320 acres is now dedicated to open space, up from 82 percent.

Since the area is home to the endangered Lyons Pentachaeta, or pygmy daisy, and is a riparian habitat for a variety of wildlife and native plants, the developer proposed concentrating the homes in four enclaves.

Boehm said the new design re- duces the area in which the project would affect the sensitive plant species. A little under a quarter of an acre would now be impacted, down from about 1.5 acres. Boehm said the redesign avoids "nearly 98 percent of direct im- pacts to the plant."

According to Colleen Holmes, president of the Cornell Preserva- tion Organization, regional plan- ning Vice Chair Esther Valadez did not oppose the number of houses in the project.

"Instead, commissioner Vala- dez stated that she was concerned about the invasion of habitat and that the North Area Plan was very clear about protection of habitat," Holmes said. "She wanted 100 percent preservation, not just 75 to 80 percent preservation. I have to admit I was very proud of this."

Excessive grading of the 320- acre property has been a continu- ing concern to county officials and environmentalists. Boehm said the revamped plan reduces grading from 48.6 acres to 33 acres.

Of the 136 oak trees on and ad- jacent to the project, the developer said 111 oaks would be saved.

The staff report notes that two heritage oaks would have to be removed and the project would encroach upon the protected zone of 17 oak trees, five of which are heritage oaks.

But for the most part, re- sources and endangered species would be protected and the project would incorporate "undu- lating slopes and contoured grad- ing that better blends with the natural terrain," the report said.

Although county staff recom- mended approval of the project, members of the planning depart- ment didn't think the changes were adequate.

Steve Hess, an opponent of the project who attended the Sept. 20 meeting, said Commissioner Harold Helsley convinced his col- leagues to deny the project with a 5-0 vote.

"Although several of the com- missioners were looking for 'wiggle room'. . . members of the community reminded the com- mission during testimony that the (North Area Plan) was specifi- cally designed to remove the 'wiggle room' from various plans and general plans," Hess said.

"Fortunately the commission chairman, Pat Modugno, and com- missioner Helsley agreed that the (plan) was intended to be inter- preted conservatively," Hess said.

He said he expects the com- munity to continue fighting against the project when a public hearing is held by the Board of Supervisors.

"This is truly an incredible ex- ample of how well the North Area Plan works," Holmes said, "and is a courageous stance that the plan- ning commission and staff took."

She said that since Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was one of the "founding fathers of the North Area Plan, it would be hard to be- lieve that he would not back his own baby up" at the board hear- ing, which has not yet been sched- uled.

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