Housing project approved despite concerns over holly leaf cherry trees

Regional planners approved a project this week calling for more than 500 homes to be built near Agua Dulce despite appeals submitted by environmentalists voicing concerns over the destruction of holly-leaf cherry trees.

On Wednesday, members of the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission approved the Spring Canyon Project on Soledad Canyon Road, where more than 500 homes are slated to be built between Shadow Pines and Agua Dulce.

Written attempts by environmental groups to derail the project — and appealing regional planners’ prior decision allowing the housing project to proceed — were turned down.

Although the groups itemized several environmental concerns, worry over the future of the holly-leaf cherry tree was a point they each shared.

The groups still have time to appeal.

“The appeal of the hearing officer’s decision was denied,” said Mitch Glaser, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning.

“The project could be further appealed to the Board of Supervisors,” he said. “The last day to file an appeal is Jan. 22.”

The Spring Canyon housing project has been in the works for 15 years.

The planned housing development sits north of Highway 14 and Soledad Canyon Road, between Shadow Pines Boulevard and Agua Dulce Canyon Road.

The housing plan also calls for one Los Angeles County Fire Department station and one Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department substation to be built, two parking lots and three open space lots, all on nearly 550 acres.

This past year, Spring Canyon developer Matt Villalobos has appeared before county planners, tweaking the project based on their concerns.

In September, developers answered last-minute questions about the project posed by members of the county Regional Planning Department’s Subdivision Committee.

In July, Villalobos addressed a number of last-minute concerns expressed by members of the Subdivision Committee about roadways and street lights, but also about environmental concerns such as assurances landscaping would include locally indigenous, native and drought-tolerant plants.

In relation to concerns about the holly-leaf cherry tree, commissioners approved the Spring Canyon project on assurances from Villalobos that one cherry tree would be planted for each one removed.

Two environmental groups — the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority and the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, or SCOPE — wanted more done for the holly leaf cherry trees, and filed written appeals with the commission.

“We’ve met with SCOPE and we’ve told them we are more than happy to work on issues such as solar and drought-tolerant plants and we’re happy to work with them,” Villalobos said.

It was after one such discussion about the holly-leaf cherry trees that Villalobos offered to plant five trees for each one lost.

The Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority, however, submitted a letter to regional planners asking that the replacement ratio for the holly-leaf cherry trees be bumped up to 20:1, requiring 20 trees planted for each one destroyed.

Conservancy officials supplied the commission with five reasons they say support the 20-1 ratio request:

  • There are no native cherry trees in the designated replacement area.

 

  • Attempts to transplant cherry trees in Tapie Canyon failed.

 

  • The tree removal area was, in the view of one biologist, “the best cherry woodland in the county.

 

  • The conservancy’s track record of planting cherry trees in the local watershed has a 40 percent success rate, with high maintenance.

 

  • Cherry trees in containers fail after two years of being planted.

 

  • Global warming continues to reduce trees’ habitat in the immediate watershed.

 

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