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Will Voters Veto Hotel?

Save Malibu Canyon, a group of Calabasas residents that banded together against a local hotel and housing development, have gathered about 1,800 signatures to shut down the project after the city approved it. The opposition group claims if the three-story hotel and gated community are built at the 4790 Las Virgenes Road site, it will bring too much traffic to the area as well as wipe out the site of an ancient landslide, natural springs and certain wildlife that live on the property. However, Aliso Viejo-based New Home Co., the developer of the 111-room hotel, 67 single-family homes and two duplex plan, claims this proposal will be the least impactful on the community, as it is a third of the size of what is allowed by law and does not touch open space, which are areas zoned for non-development. The Calabasas City Council voted 3-2 in favor of the plan on May 31, which prompted the petition against what is now deemed the ‘Canyon Oaks’ project. For the petition to qualify, citizens had 30 days to gather signatures from 10 percent of the city’s registered voters, which totals to about 1,500 people. The city council is currently verifying the signatures and will know if the petition qualifies sometime this week. If the signatures are valid, the council has two choices. It can either rescind its ordinance approving the development or allow residents to vote on the matter in an upcoming election, which would most likely be the Nov. 8 presidential election, according to City Manager Tony Coroalles. Three-year development If voters reject the development, New Home must resubmit a project that follows the original general plan and zoning regulations. That would veto the hotel, but allow housing and commercial buildings. “I think what you have here is your general conflict between residents who want to preserve what’s good about Calabasas and a city that is trying to balance resident interest with property owner interest,” said Coroalles. “The reason residents are against it, although it is not zoned open space, is it is one of the last remaining undeveloped spaces in Calabasas.” The 77-acre property sits next to Agoura Road with one side facing development across Las Virgenes Road and the other sitting in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. According to Rick Bianchi, vice president and regional manager of New Home, 61 acres are committed to open space, and the company will build on the remaining 16 acres. He said as part of the city’s general plan, he would have been able to build three times the homes and develop twice as much commercial space, causing much more traffic to the area. “We have been working on this property in the city of Calabasas for the last three years,” he said. “We have been very professional, respectful and sensitive to what we felt the community would want us to develop.” During those years, Bianchi has attended numerous hearings and has made several revisions to his proposal with the aim of getting broad community support. When the council approved the ordinance – essentially giving the greenlight to move forward with construction – Bianchi was taken aback when the petition began to circulate. “When we found out this group called Save Malibu Canyon formed to challenge the approval of this project, I took it very personally,” he said. The tension between New Home and this group of Calabasas residents came to a head on July 9, when both groups were outside an Albertsons promoting their causes. Save Malibu Canyon was encouraging residents to sign the petition against the New Home development, while New Home campaigners were passing out materials on why the project benefits the community and provides an economic boost. As the two groups worked side by side, a nonviolent altercation ensued, and police were called to the scene. As a result, both groups were asked to leave the property. “What we are opposed to is the city changing the general plan and zoning,” said Save Malibu Canyon’s Mary Hubbard, who is also president of homeowners’ association Malibu Canyon Community Association. “We believe the project is far larger and far more damaging than anything that should be approved there.” One of the group’s main concerns is for an ancient landslide that would be filled in with dirt from cut hillsides, according to Hubbard. She said the community is dedicated to preserving open space and maintaining what is known as the ‘Gateway to the Santa Monica Mountains’ by discouraging overdevelopment and increased traffic. Paul Edelman, deputy director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, is also against the construction and advocated for either 20 luxury homes to be built on the property or a hotel — but not both. “That mouth of a canyon is so iconic to people who have grown up or live in this area, and the slope is just breathtaking as you go in,” he said. “(For construction) there will be 4 million cubic yards of grading on a beautiful north facing slope covered with coastal state shrub and coast live oaks. In 2016, doing that kind of scalping makes no sense.” Post-election plans The city’s general plan originally allowed for up to 180 housing units and 155,000 square feet of commercial development, and according to New Home’s Bianchi, there was no real need for more commercial space on that side of town. Therefore, they came up with the idea for a hotel that could produce more than $600,000 in bed taxes for the city without increasing competition for existing retailers, which the majority of the city council supported. Just down the street at 26300 Rondell Road, Malibu developer Richard Weintraub recently received city approval to build his three-story hotel, which caught its fair share of community flak as well. However, if Canyon Oaks gets nixed by voters, Bianchi said that won’t be the end of the road for New Home. “We will absolutely be coming back with a new project if we are not successful at election, and the new project will be consistent with the general plan and will not require zone changes or general plan amendments,” he said. The new project could be much larger as New Home has room for expansion within the city’s general plan. As backup, Save Malibu Canyon has filed a lawsuit against the city of Calabasas, citing improper rezoning as well as inadequate environmental, traffic and alternative analyses. If the petition is invalidated or voters approve the development, the group believes the lawsuit could halt New Home’s plans. “If this project doesn’t proceed, there will be another,” said the city’s Coroalles. “And what will come after this one is one that is denser and has more impact to the community.”

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