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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Developers donate 175 hillside acres in Glendale

After more than a decade of debate over development in the Verdugo Mountains, three parcels have been given to a conservation group.

By Tami Abdollah, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
January 5, 2008

Two developers who battled the city of Glendale for more than a decade over hillside development in the Verdugo Mountains have donated 175 acres of land worth millions of dollars to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, officials announced this week.

Developers John Gregg and Sal Gangi, whose plans to put more than 500 homes on the slopes of the Verdugos sparked lawsuits and public outcry, ceded the last of their major hillside properties last month.

"It was the right thing to do," Gangi said. "We analyzed it, and it's kind of a family decision. . . . We haven't bought any hillside property in many years, and I don't think we're ready to do that anymore."

The land includes three separate parcels in the Verdugo Mountains and San Rafael Hills in Glendale. One of the parcels, about 38 acres off Glenoaks Boulevard near Chevy Chase Canyon, had been slated at one time for the development of about 100 homes, according to Laurie Collins, chief staff counsel for the conservation authority.

The other two parcels include 117 acres in the Verdugo Mountains near the city's Brand Park and about 20 acres near the Beaudry Motorway, which is a popular hiking and mountain biking area.

"We hold them on behalf of the public," Collins said. "Now they can be used for public trails and open space and wildlife preservation."

Gregg and Gangi, both longtime Glendale residents, approached City Councilman Frank Quintero about six months ago with the idea of donating the land to the city. He directed them to the conservation authority and helped broker the deal, which closed Dec. 24.

"Once it goes to the conservancy, that's it," Quintero said. "There's no City Council that will be able to reverse the decision to green the space."

The conservation authority is a regional agency, partnered with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, that helps preserve and manage about 60,000 acres of public land throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Glendale has a history of fights over open space preservation. Some of the newly donated land is adjacent to the Verdugo Mountains Open Space Preserve, now owned and preserved by the Santa Monica conservancy. The preserve, formerly known as the Oakmont V, was a proposed development site for 572 luxury homes by Gregg and Gangi in the early 1990s.

After a more than 10-year battle between the developers and environmental groups, which involved several lawsuits, the developers agreed to sell the land as part of the settlement of a lawsuit against the city of Glendale. The city and conservancy paired up to buy the land for $25 million.

The recent donation has been welcomed by many environmentalists.

This is "kind of the last mountain wilderness in the area we live in," said Richard Toyon, president of the Volunteers Organized in Conserving the Environment, a local environmental group. "It seems like every piece of open space we've been able to preserve has been either purchased or fought for, so to be gifted these pieces of property is really something."

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