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Sunday, Jun 4, 2023

Clear Path for Housing Plan

Just in case further proof is needed that the housing bust is officially over, look no further than the Moorpark hills. The owner of more than 3,000 acres just outside town is proposing a development of hundreds of luxury homes on property not far from Moorpark College – in what could be the first suburban subdivision in Ventura County since the bust. What’s more, a March decision by the City Council that has streamlined the application process means the project could be in front of city officials next month. “We’re really trying to work with neighbors, the college and the city to make sure we can get this done in a way that makes everybody happy,” said Frank Foster, a principal at Carlsbad consulting firm Residential Strategies LLC, which was hired by the Coastline RE Holding Moorpark Corp., which currently owns the land, to shepherd the project through approvals. The plan calls for 500 to 780 luxury homes of varying sizes – a large project considering that only 592 new homes were permitted in all of Ventura County in 2010, the last year for which data is available. But the project is anything but a sure bet. The development is the third proposal for housing on the site in the last two decades, and Moorpark voters, who have final say-so on the project, rejected the first two. “We have a lot of (San Fernando) Valley refugees,” said City Councilman Dave Pollock. “We have a lot of residents who like having urban conveniences, but not the traffic. And we like having green space.” Foster, though, says this plan is different from the previous projects, and calls for a large amount of land to be preserved for open space. Pollock, who was not on the Council when voters rejected a $1 billion plan for 1,680 homes in 2006, said the scaled-down project stands a better chance of approval. “I have an open mind,” he said. “Ultimately, something’s going to go up there, no matter how much we wish it could stay open space.” Third time’s a charm The hills behind Moorpark College are not within Moorpark’s city limits. The land is unincorporated and the county only allows one home for every 10 acres. Further complicating matters: city services such as trash and sewer are not available in the county, so septic tanks would have to be installed and waste hauled out. The means that any serious large-scale development hinges on the city annexing the land, giving developers access to critical municipal services for hundreds of homes. This is where two prior proposals hit snags. In 1999, voters turned down the 3,221-home project known as Hidden Creek, and enacted the law that required their approval on any future additions. Then came the 2006 North Park Village proposal, which called for 1,660 houses. Residents of Moorpark balked at the traffic this would bring, the loss of open space, and the increased workload for city workers. The annexation was defeated, with only 1,818 voters in favor of the development in a special election that attracted 45 percent of the city’s registered voters. Foster said Coastline plans to stay with the project until it receives all entitlements, but then it prefers to sell off the entire subdivision to one entity. This time around, the plan calls for less than one-third of the homes proposed back in 1999 and will cover just 670 acres of the 3,844-acre property. Still, it amounts to a full-scale subdivision and that is too much for some residents. Councilwoman Roseann Mikos, who spearheaded the campaigns against previous developments, has said openly at City Council meetings that even this development is too much for the area. On Wednesday, the Council will discuss whether the project should be sent straight to it for approval or first go through a lengthier process involving a development committee and public hearings. Councilman Keith Millhouse said during a February meeting to discuss the proposal with residents that he sees no distinction between the current plan and the previous ones, and thinks sending it to committee is a waste of staff time. “It’s basically the same kind of deal. It’s just packaged in a different package,” he said during the meeting. The future of the development could be decided much quicker than have the prior projects, which went through analysis by staff before making it to citywide elections. The City Council voted last month to allow any councilmember to ask for a vote on a proposal even before a it has been reviewed by a committee that traditionally considers developments. However, the development would still have to go before voters, who would be asked if they want to annex the property. Pollock, who voted against the measure, says that it could end up saving time, but could also work against the plan. “The developer won’t have to waste time. If it’s a no, it’s a no,” he said. “But it also means that there won’t be a lot of time for them to discuss it with city planners or voters.” The plan has been submitted to the city, but all of this is part of the pre-screening process. If it is approved, there would be another round of analysis by city staff. Foster is trying to win over those voters. He has hired a traffic consultant and has met with representatives from the college to discuss road plans. Last month, Foster went to the City Council meeting and talked one-on-one with residents prior to the meeting. Local real estate agents say the homes would go quickly. Moorpark has approved smaller projects in recent months within city limits. A 200-unit apartment project was approved in March, also over traffic objections. The passage of time is key to Coastline’s plan, said Pollock. “This area has always been an escape from the Valley,” he said. “But we’ve grown since even just a few years ago, and we’re going to have to add some homes. Unless some angel preservationist comes down and buys up the land, it’s going to get developed. And this may be the best we get.”

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