By City News Service
The Los Angeles City Planning Commission on Thursday unanimously approved zoning changes and the environmental impact report for an 188-unit gated community in the Santa Susana Mountains, despite a warning of the project's potentially damaging effects on the environment.
With the commission's green light, the Hidden Creeks Estates project is expected to go to the Los Angeles City Council, which will likely consider it first in its Planning and Land Use Management Committee.
As part of the project's development plan proposed by Texas-based Forestar USA Real Estate Group Inc., Los Angeles will annex the project's 285-acre site, which is in an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County near Porter Ranch.
In addition to the homes -- some of which may be priced at more than $1 million -- the proposed community would include a public park with a playground and fields and facilities for baseball, softball and basketball; equestrian and hiking trails; and 123 acres of open space.
The development would include a new site for the existing Mountain Meadows Equestrian Center, with 120 horse stalls and other equestrian facilities planned.
The project, which also involves major grading work to cut 6.5 million cubic yards of earth out of the landscape and the removal of 456 trees, took some heat from 18 scientists who signed a letter urging the city to take a second look at the project's environmental impacts.
The project would damage a natural corridor used by wildlife, said Sean Anderson, a professor of environmental science and resource management at Cal State University Channel Islands who signed the letter with scientists and researchers from other universities, including UCLA and Cal State University Northridge.
Anderson said they sent the letter to urge that the project's "environmental impact assessment be reconsidered and that this not be just swept under the rug with some minimal changes."
Dana Perlman, vice president of the city Planning Commission, said some of the scientists' concerns were addressed in the city's environmental study and mitigation plan, and "some went beyond," but he felt good about what the project would do for the community.
The unincorporated area was already zoned for housing, he said, so when the city stepped in to annex the site, it was at least able to extract a number of important community benefits from the developer, including equestrian facilities and horse trails desired by the nearby Porter Ranch community, a public park and a million-gallon water tank critical for fighting fires.
"We treat our responsibilities with a lot of gravity and weigh the costs and benefits in each situation," Perlman said. "I truly believe the benefits will far outweigh the impact this might visit on the environment."
Anderson expressed disappointment at the commission's decision saying that it was "surprising" to him the environmental impacts were not taken more seriously and that the project went forward with "minimal changes."
"This isn't just adding a few homes here or there," he said. "It's a new tendril of development going into an area where a lot of wildlife are moving back and forth."
"It might not kill a bobcat or kill a mountain lion, but it is going to fray the rope," Anderson said.