Last year, most residents near Lake Sherwood, south of Thousand Oaks, were grateful when multimillionaire financier and developer David Murdock announced plans to build 700 residential units around the lake.
It wasn't that they wanted the development. But it was half the size of one that had been proposed earlier, and Murdock promised he would refill the lake, which had been drained two years before.
"At the time, in relation to what people had been facing before, Murdock was a salvation," said Jack Speirs, a 42-year resident of the area. "It was such a relief." Some of the 450 to 500 residents even dubbed Murdock a White Knight and Prince Charming.
But now that Murdock's plans are nearing implementation, the same residents are not so sure they want hundreds of homes and condominiums around their rural lake.
"What we have now is the jewel of the Santa Monica Mountains," said Vickie Goldschlager, Thousand Oaks' representative to a Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy citizens' advisory committee. She and others said they fear Murdock will create a "modified Westlake Village," a heavily developed area around a man-made lake.
"I moved out of Marina del Rey in order to come to a quiet, rural ambiance," resident Daphne Elliott said. "We will have to grin and bear it or get out."
Murdock, a powerful Republican fund-raiser, bought the 150-acre lake and 1,600 acres of surrounding Ventura County land a year ago. He owns a large ranch in nearby Hidden Valley.
The lake has been dry since then-owner Dayton Realty Co. of Beverly Hills said it had to be drained for a dam inspection. Many residents, though, said the draining was unnecessary and actually punishment for intense opposition to proposal by Dayton in 1980 to build 1,400 homes in the area.
During the intervening year, Murdock workers cleared the lake and shore of accumulated brush and debris.
As Murdock's construction plans have firmed up, some residents, government officials and others have wanted to ensure that Murdock builds environmental safeguards into the development. They are especially concerned about traffic, a stand of rare oak trees and a proper environment for waterfowl that once found a haven at the lake.
Murdock's proposal calls for the following:
In the China Flats area north of the lake, building 66 single-family homes, on half-acre to two-acre lots, and 190 condominiums; in developed areas north and south of the lake, 91 single-family homes.
Narrowing a finger of the lake in the Carlisle Creek area to build 100 single-family homes on the eastern shore and building a bridge extending Lower Lake Road down the length of the shoreline.
Building a private, 18-hole golf course, country club and tennis club southwest of the lake, with about 109 quarter-acre to half-acre lots ringing the course, as well as 59 estate lots of at least 10 acres each and 124 condominiums. Access to Carlisle Creek and the golf course would be controlled at a security gate on Potrero and Stafford roads.
The plan would increase the area's population to as much as 2,300, said Ron Vogelbaum, associate Ventura County planner.
Several road and other improvements are planned. A new Potrero Road would be built to replace the narrow, winding, two-lane street. Stafford Road would be improved, but not widened, and a new road circling the golf course would be built. Lower Lake Road would be slightly widened.
County planners said at a meeting last week that nearly all of the new and existing traffic from the Lake Sherwood area will flow into Westlake Boulevard, an already heavily traveled artery.
However, an extension of Rancho Road, which now ends near the Ventura Freeway in Thousand Oaks, could absorb up to 20% of the traffic from Westlake Boulevard, county planners said.
As part of the Murdock project, sewer and water lines would be extended from Thousand Oaks. Construction of homes and improvements is expected to last from 1987 to 1995, Vogelbaum said.
The Ventura County Planning Department has started preparing the required environmental impact report, which will accompany a proposed amendment to the area's general plan that Murdock is pushing.
The county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors could modify the proposal and general plan amendment or deny it altogether. But Murdock's development ideas already have support from the supervisor who represents Lake Sherwood, Edwin A. Jones.
"I think the basic concept is good," Jones said, adding that he has not decided whether to support specific parts of the proposal.
Rick Colvin, president of the Lake Sherwood Community Assn., also supports the Murdock plan.
"Considering the size of the area and the location of the units proposed, it seems that it is a limited development in return for substantial improvement" of the lake, he said.
But the effect Murdock's plan may have on the environment worries some.
Residents say two of the finest stands of rare Valley oaks are on the planned golf course in an area where they could be endangered by too much watering.
Joseph Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, said the lake, when it was filled, was home to a significant number of geese, ducks and other waterfowl. Murdock's plans, Edmiston fears, will not restore that habitat.
Still others fear that an increasingly developed Lake Sherwood will pressure landowners in adjacent Hidden Valley to develop their property, which now consists of spacious horse and cattle ranches.
Bruce Smith, supervisor of long-range planning for Ventura County, said that is always possible but that his staff will likely recommend changes to Murdock's plan to limit such a possibility.
Also, Murdock's plan would end a decades-old tradition of public access to parts of the lake.
Jones said he and another area politician asked Murdock to change his plans and allow some public usage, but that he refused.
A spokesman for Murdock's company, Murdock Development, would not comment on the proposal.
Although they are concerned, most Lake Sherwood residents interviewed said they want to see the lake refilled. In order for that to happen, they know they will have to accept some development from whomever owns the lake.