2007-04-05 / Front Page

Approval near for 66-home Triangle Ranch development

Custom homes would be built near Ladyface Mountain
By Stephanie Bertholdo bertholdo@theacorn.com

COLLEEN HOLMES/Special to The Acorn ON SITE- An aerial view shows the area near Ladyface Mountain where Triangle Ranch would be built. Kanan Road slices through the middle en route to the beach. COLLEEN HOLMES/Special to The Acorn ON SITE- An aerial view shows the area near Ladyface Mountain where Triangle Ranch would be built. Kanan Road slices through the middle en route to the beach. Triangle Ranch, a custom home development proposed at the base of Ladyface Mountain in the Cornell area of unincorporated Agoura, may soon receive approval by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, but how many homes will be allowed and where the homes will be built still remains a question mark.

Sage Community Group, the developer of the project, appealed the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning's denial of the project to the Board of Supervisors on March 27.

The public hearing was continued to June 26 to allow the developer time to redesign the project- again. Supervisors want the project to be consistent with the Santa Monica North Area Plan, which was approved by the board in 2000 to rein in extensive development in rural areas and protect a 32squaremile stretch of pristine land from Hidden Hills to Westlake Village.

"Among other things, this plan requires that biotic resources be protected (and) the land should dictate the type and intensity of the development and that the character of the existing communities be protected," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.

The developer wants to build 66 homes on 320 acres near the boundary of Agoura Hills in an area considered the gateway to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. While 90 percent of the land- 287 acres- would be donated as dedicated public open space, environmentalists have been fighting the developer for 10 years citing environmental threats, including the destruction of endangered plant species, riparian habitat, trails, oak trees and water quality in blue line streams.

The Cornell Preservation Organization has been leading the opposition. The organization hired a civil engineer to develop an alternate plan allowing 50 homes to be constructed on a segment of the property already considered "degraded."

The plan includes 41 homes on 10,000-square-foot lots on the Ladyface Mountain side of the project, five homes in the Medea Creek strip area, and four homes nestled in and around the Cornell Fire Station. Two of the Cornell area homes would be equestrian estates with larger lots.

Both sides have made concessions. The developer initially wanted 132 homes, but whittled down the plan to 81 custom homes, then 71 and finally 66 homes in four enclaves. Ideally, the CPO would prefer only nine equestrian homes on the property, but then upped their plan to 44 homes and now the 50home alternative.

"Our game plan was to keep the developer within a certain footprint, which keeps the project away from- and (affords) protection of- sensitive areas which include wildlife corridors, oaks, riparian habitat, blue line streams (and) endangered plant species," said CPO President Colleen Holmes. She said the plan would also minimize any new grading of the land.

The CPO plan places the entrance to the development farther south on Kanan Road and removes all retaining walls except for those that would prevent landslides. Grading would be eliminated in a "significant ecological area" by the Cornell Fire Station under the CPO's conditions.

Holmes said the Sage plan would have turned an "important knoll" into a "manufactured slope." The CPO plan saves the knoll and places the majority of the homes on the Ladyface side of the project.

The CPO came to the meeting prepared with a presentation of its plan and expert testimony from an environmental consultant, CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) representative, allies from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the organization that paid $2,000 for the alternative design, and others. The Center for Biological Diversity, the National Park Service, Heal the Bay, Save Open Space, the city of Agoura Hills and several homeowner associations were also supportive of the plan.

Bruce Whizin, son of the late Art Whizin who opened the Whizin Mall with Vance Moran in 1954, is among the original investors. He told supervisors his foundation owns 38 percent of the property.

A realtor, an heir of one of the original investors and a rabbi also spoke in favor of the development.

"It's unfortunate many of our other stakeholders are not here, as they are elderly," said an heir to the property. "Some of the ownership is on second, third generations."

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky made a motion that included 10 conditions, including the elimination of all retaining walls along Kanan Road and other scenic corridors. The motion calls for protection of the endangered Lyons Pentachaeta, or pygmy daisy, and Dudleya habitats located in "significant ecological areas" off Cornell Road and other sections of the project. The developer is required to minimize water quality impacts, especially to Medea Creek, and protect the creek's riparian habitat, the motion said.

The proposal outlines the elimination of the "urban-style" appearance of the proposed fourway intersection, the reduction of grading and the use of a rural road standard to eliminate curbs, gutters and sidewalks.

Yaroslavsky also asked that the natural topography of the area be protected.

Both sides were happy with Yaroslavsky's motion.

"We were pleased that the supervisor mentioned we began at 132 (proposed homes) and are now at 66, which is well below the number 81 permitted by the North Area Plan," said Penny Bohannon Boehm, a spokesperson for Triangle Ranch. "By continuing the hearing until June 26, Sage will have time to work with the county planning staff to meet the Board of Supervisors' direction including the complete avoidance of the sensitive Lyons Pentachaeta and the Santa Monica Mountains Dudleya."

"This churns my stomach mentioning this to you, but the point is we are holding them responsible in committing to a certain footprint size in already degraded areas," Holmes said. Nevertheless, she was happy with the outcome.

"Zev and his staff were quite interested in the constructive measures CPO (provided) them," Holmes said.

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