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Housing project would remove heritage oaks

• Six of them are as old as the Declaration of Independence

Posted: June 28, 2008 3:27 a.m.
Updated: August 29, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Backers of the proposed Lyons Canyon Ranch housing development in the Newhall Pass "wedge" want to rip out up to 162 oak trees, 13 of which are heritage oaks -- some as old as the Declaration of Independence.

When Wendy Langhans leads a small band of hikers back from a night hike through Towsley Canyon, she stops halfway down the trail and points across The Old Road to a place in the dark, under the stars.

"That's where Las Lomas would have been," she tells the troupe, a statement usually met with a sigh of relief.

Then, Langhans points to another place in the dark, over her left shoulder.

"And that's where they plan to build the Lyons Canyon Ranch project," she says, speaking as a concerned private citizen of Santa Clarita.

Any collective sighs intended for this latest development project, however, are on hold right now, as development plans to build a senior citizens community with 186 single family units and condos nears to a close at the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission. More than nine acres are set aside for "unlimited commercial" use.

"When I lead them to the Newhall wedge, I tell them ‘That's where they wanted to build Las Lomas' and we can see where that is," Langhans told The Signal Friday, referring to Las Lomas Land Co.'s plans, now dashed, to build 5,800 homes into the side of the hill.

"We can also see the Santa Susana Mountains and the San Gabriel Mountains. I'm looking at a super-highway of wildlife in that corridor," she said. "When I stand there and I see all that, I feel blessed to be there."

The pending Lyons Canyon Ranch housing development calls for 93 single-family lots and 93 condos, all intended for seniors, on more than 231 acres, next door to the Ed Davis Park in Towsley Canyon.

Plans for the project were submitted to the county two years ago, almost to the day, by project developers Western Pacific Housing, Inc.

There have been some modifications made to the plans - asking permission to extend the height restriction from 35 to 50 feet for two condominium buildings.

It's the request to cut down 13 large oak trees, however, that has motivated people like Langhans to oppose the plan.

The oaks are heritage oaks - trees older than America itself.

Heritage Oaks - such as Valley Oak, California Live Oak, Black Oak and Blue Oak - that have a trunk 36 inches in circumference are deemed because of their age, size, location, visibility, historic nature or other unique attributes, to be heritage trees and, accordingly, trees that deserve special consideration for preservation and protection.

The project seeks permission to rip out 162 oak trees, 13 of which are heritage oaks. It also seeks permission from the county to encroach on another 52 oak trees, six of which are also as old as to have been growing when the Declaration of Independence was signed.

"We're losing trees like crazy in this city," said Cynthia Neil-Harris, vice president of the Santa Clarita Oak Conservancy.

"We're concerned about the cumulative effect of cutting down oak trees in Santa Clarita," Neil-Harris told The Signal Friday. "And, we're very concerned about heritage oaks being cut down, oaks that were here when the Constitution was signed."

Neil-Harris expressed some optimism, however, that contractors can be creative and "think outside the box" in coming up with ways of preserving the heritage oaks.

Incorporating heritage oaks into the design of a new neighborhood only serves to enhance the neighborhood, she said.

"The project can be drawn around the trees," she said. "It can happen. People will buy houses that have oak trees near them."

The Lyons Canyon Ranch project, also called the Warner Ranch project, calls for more than nine acres of land to be re-zoned from heavy agricultural use to "unlimited commercial" use and calls for some special hillside grading.


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