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Tax Breaks Possible for Mall Builder : Oxnard: The council authorizes talks that may also include city revenue guarantees. Other developers are wary.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Oxnard’s City Council on Tuesday authorized negotiations that could include tax breaks for a Sherman Oaks developer who plans to build a large shopping center on the northern edge of the city.

The negotiations--which according to city officials also could include revenue guarantees for the city--are being watched closely by other developers in the city. They fear that concessions on the shopping center project could come at their expense.

But the developer of the proposed project has told the council that some concessions from the city are necessary for the project’s economic feasibility.

“As things stand right now, the project would not be feasible. A developer agreement is essential,” said Stanley G. Rothbart, president of the Rothbart Development Corp.

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On Tuesday, Rothbart and architect Gerhard Heusch presented conceptual drawings of the shopping center to the City Council. The proposed 550,000-square-foot shopping center, to be located on the northwest corner of Rose Avenue and Gonzales Road, would house four major tenants and several smaller shops. It would cost the developers about $50 million to $60 million to build, Rothbart said.

The developers said they favor a modernist design, but all four council members present said they were not impressed with the three designs Heusch presented.

“There’s no pizazz,” said Councilwoman Dorothy Maron, echoing remarks made by her colleagues. Mayor Nao Takasugi and Councilman Manuel Lopez said they preferred the Spanish colonial design prevalent in Santa Barbara’s upscale shopping district.

Rothbart, insisting on the modernist theme, said he would return next week with more designs to show the council. But he said he would be happy to go with the colonial style if he can’t sway the council.

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The developer agreement may prove to be more difficult to iron out. Developer incentives are common in Oxnard--the city has used them in past years to attract the Price Club and the car dealers of the Oxnard Auto Center.

But this agreement comes at a time of uneasy tension between the city and the development community over the unresolved issue of developer fees.

Earlier this year, the city put on hold across-the-board developer fee increases after the development community--particularly the Building Industry Assn. and the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce--voiced strong opposition.

They were especially upset over a 134% increase in traffic fees, which affect commercial developments much more than residential developments because businesses create more traffic.

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Oxnard already has the most expensive development fees in the county, and the proposed increases would make the cost of building there prohibitive, developers told council members at several public hearings on the issue.

While no developers spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce representative said in an interview that the chamber will monitor the negotiations between the city and the shopping center on behalf of the city’s developers.

“We don’t care if the city makes concessions as long as it has money to pay for them,” said Tony Wilson, the chamber’s vice president for government affairs.

“But we want to make sure the city doesn’t pay for a new developer to come in by raising fees on other developers,” he said. Last July, the City Council eliminated 70 positions to balance its books and still ended up with a projected deficit of close to $1 million.

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Maron expressed a different concern about the proposed development agreement. “In the past, we’ve signed development agreements I’m not happy with,” she said.

“In fact, we wouldn’t be in the financial troubles we are right now if we hadn’t signed some agreements that were not very good to the city,” she said.

But the City Council wants a new shopping center to enhance Oxnard’s retail base. Earlier this year, its five members attended a shopping mall convention in Las Vegas, hoping to reel in a big mall developer.


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