State Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys) and a group of investment partners who own 3,800 acres of rural land north of Moorpark have begun lobbying local officials for approval to build about 4,000 homes and industrial and commercial buildings on the property.
But development of the land, known as the Strathearn Ranch, is years in the future. It depends largely on whether Moorpark or Simi Valley is willing to annex the property, which separates the two cities, according to city and county officials.
For that to happen, developers will have to convince residents and local officials that the project would provide major benefits, such as road construction and parkland, to overcome formidable obstacles to approval, said Ventura Mayor John Sullard, the group's planning consultant.
Robbins declined to be interviewed, but a spokeswoman said he holds less than 10% of the partnership that owns the land.
Homes Closest to Moorpark
The development proposal now includes about 4,000 single-family homes, condominiums and apartments in the area closest to Moorpark, Sullard said. At the eastern end of the parcel, near Simi Valley, industrial and commercial developments are planned, he said.
The obstacles faced by the would-be developers include traf-fic problems, annexation and growth-control ordinances in both Moorpark and Simi Valley, said Moorpark, Simi Valley and Ventura County officials familiar with the plan.
Under Ventura county policy, the property must be annexed by a city before development is allowed, said 4th District Supervisor James Dougherty, who represents the area.
Dougherty said he told representatives of the investment group, which includes Calmark Development Corp. of Santa Monica, to "go see the cities" when he was informed of the proposal.
Moorpark Mayor Clint Harper said he met with Sullard last week to discuss the project, "because they want to start the wheels rolling for annexation. The main question is how the cities feel."
Harper said he believes that the proposal will meet with significant opposition because of traffic and other problems
One House Per 40 Acres
The current zoning on the property, which is in an unincorporated area of northeast Ventura County, allows only one house for every 40 acres.
Besides, about 2,500 acres are part of a county agricultural preserve where large-scale development is banned until 1995, according to county planning records. County officials, however, can grant exceptions to the ban, or charge developers a fee for an exception, county planners said.
Annexation of the property by Moorpark is the development group's first choice because the western part of the land touches the city's boundary, said Charles Cohen, a Thousand Oaks attorney representing the group.
Cohen said he has also discussed the project with Simi Valley officials who were "very cordial" to the idea. But he said the partnership will not decide "until much later" which city to apply to.
Each City Could Annex
Some eastern parts of the property, though not now in the city limits, are included in Simi Valley's long-range plans for annexation, Simi Valley Deputy City Manager Bob Heitzman said.
Another alternative would be for each city to annex part of the area, said Robert Braitman, executive director of the Ventura County Local Agency Formation Commission.
Cohen said the development group may also seek county permission to build the project without being annexed. County officials have in the past made exceptions to the policy of keeping development within city boundaries, he said.
As a last resort, Cohen said, the group could seek incorporation as a new city. A previous owner of the land planned to build a city there, with 15,500 homes powered by solar energy. It would have been called Solaris. The plan collapsed for financial reasons in 1985.
Developing the land without annexation to Moorpark or Simi Valley would remove the development from new growth restrictions in those cities. In Moorpark, voters in November approved a measure that limits building permits to 250 a year. A similar measure passed last year in Simi Valley allows only about 400 permits annually.
Three Moorpark City Council members, who may be called on to decide the project's fate, said that they received offers of contributions they attributed to Robbins during the election campaign in November, but that they either took no money or returned what was sent.
A spokeswoman for Robbins said he neither made nor authorized any such contributions.
Mayor Harper said he turned down an offer by Robbins to contribute to his November City Council campaign that was made through City Councilman Thomas C. (Bud) Ferguson.
Councilwoman Eloise Brown said she agreed to accept a campaign contribution from Robbins through Cohen's office but never received the money.
Councilman Returned Money
Councilman John Galloway said he received $879, in checks from nine persons he did not know, with a note that said the money came from "friends of Alan Robbins." Galloway said he returned the money in January after he discovered that Robbins had plans to develop the property.
Cohen said the legislator provided him with names of potential donors and that he contacted those persons, asking whether they were interested in donating to the council members' campaigns. Cohen said that such donations would have violated no laws.