A divided Ventura City Council this week approved a housing development of 721 units, the largest single allocation of residential building permits in the last five years, city officials said.
By a 4-3 vote, the council Monday approved plans by four developers to build the single-family homes, which are expected to draw 2,019 residents, to what are now mostly lemon groves north of Juanamaria Elementary School.
In return, the developers will pay the city at least $5.5 million to finance highway improvements and to reconstruct the congested interchange between California 126 and Kimball Road.
"I think we struck a good deal," Councilwoman Nan Drake told the crowd that packed the council chambers.
But the three dissenting council members, all of whom were elected last November amid calls to slow Ventura's growth, disagreed.
Councilman Richard Francis said the agreement, which represents about one-fourth of the growth permitted for the next four years under the city's population restrictions, would "hogtie" the council.
Dubious About Commitment
"We're committing the City Council . . . with no possibility to change," agreed Councilman Don Villeneuve, who along with Councilman John McWherter also voted against the ordinance. "We're locked into it no matter what comes down the line."
Developers, however, said the council's endorsement was an extension of what they called a social contract that began in 1985, when the city opened up the area to development on the condition that measures to mitigate traffic be adequately financed.
"We've heard certain comments that we couldn't get a bet to get four developers to agree on anything, especially spending money," said Hardy M. Strozier, a representative of Presley of Southern California, which will build 195 of the units to be occupied after 1990.
Under the agreement--the first of its kind since the council approved an Oct. 19 ordinance permitting such deals--the developers will pay the city at least $7,500 for each unit built. Some critics complained that such additional costs would be reflected in the price of the homes, which are expected to range from $190,000 to $240,000.
Although the 170-acre project will be required to go through a full review that will allow the city to impose some restrictions, the agreement commits the council to the size, height and density proposed by the developers.
A majority of the audience that sat through the hearing of nearly four hours seemed to favor the agreement: At a developer's urging, they stood in unison to demonstrate their support.
"I think all four developers will really make this a nice community to live," said DeLoy Hanson, a resident of east Ventura for 18 years.
Several others spoke out against the plan.
"I believe that the time is right now for the council to demonstrate that it does have ears that work," said Andrew Prokopow, suggesting that results of the November election should persuade council members to reject growth-inducing plans.
Neil Moyer, a member of the city's Comprehensive Plan Review Committee, said that although plans to mitigate traffic in the Juanamaria area were being financed, the impact on other city streets of the population increase was being ignored.
"That's really trading off one small community's betterment for the general community's detriment," he said.
But the council majority, although acknowledging that another 2,000 people living in eastern Ventura would have an adverse impact, said such an agreement at least would provide the city with several million dollars for road improvements that it may not have otherwise.
"There's pluses and minuses," Councilman Bill Crew said. "But sometimes that's what you have to live with."