Thursday, May 10, 2007

Agoura Hills will reconsider EIR for commercial project

Agoura Hills officials say they won't appeal a Superior Court judge's recent decision requiring the city to set aside key documents necessary for the development of an ambitious retail and commercial project called Agoura Village.

Instead, the City Council tonight will be asked to decertify the environmental impact report for the proposed development and revoke its previous approval of the Agoura Village Specific Plan, which laid out a vision for the 135-acre project area near Agoura and Kanan roads.

"We're going to comply with the decision," City Attorney Craig Steele said.

The council will also be asked to approve a consulting contract, not to exceed $55,000, to complete the biological plant and animal study deemed necessary by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant.

In his April 20 decision, Chalfant found that the city's environmental impact report fell short of analyzing the site in sufficient detail and relied on outdated sources for the information that was included.

"The city's failure lies primarily in a lack of biological surveys," Chalfant wrote. "Knowledge of the regional biological setting is critical to the EIR's assessment, and special emphasis was required for sensitive plants and wildlife.

"While the EIR need not perform an environmental analysis of specific developmental projects, it must describe the environmental setting in sufficient detail to appraise readers of the nature of the environmental resources affected by the project."

The suit against Agoura Hills was filed by Mary Altmann, who lives in the unincorporated area of Lakeside, near Malibou Lake in the Santa Monica Mountains south of Agoura Hills.

Altmann, who represented herself, said she was pleased with the judge's decision, although she wished it had gone further.

"I thought it was a conservative ruling," she said. "I was hoping to be affirmed on some other points. I am very happy with what I did win."

Agoura Village, envisioned as a pedestrian-friendly, vibrant development with multifamily housing and shops, has been in the works for nearly a decade.

Altmann said she was moved to file the suit because she felt that not only were the documents required for the development deficient, but she also worried about the effects it would have on the area's safety.

"It's a very high fire area," Altmann said. "I feel they are just choking this area with traffic. On beach days, if there is a fire, we can't get out to the 101 (freeway) and they didn't address these issues."

The project is divided into three areas. Applications have been filed for two of the areas. Both applications are in the concept review stage, Agoura Hills Senior Planner Allison Cook said.

The Agoura Village issue will be heard by the council at a special meeting tonight at 6:30 at the Civic Center, 30001 Ladyface Court.

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