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Moorpark to Seek Control of 4,000 Acres : Development: The council wants to enlarge the sphere of influence to require builder to obtain city approval of plans.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fearing an end run by an Orange County developer, the Moorpark City Council is poised to make a bid for control of 4,000 acres north of the city limits to force the developer to negotiate with the city on all building plans.

The sudden bid to seize control over the land owned by Messenger Investment Co. comes as the Irvine-based company is pulling back from the city after a contentious reception to its development plans by two council members.

The company on Wednesday backed off its efforts to get a tentative agreement from city officials on how to proceed with the massive development of 3,000 dwellings. Messenger and city officials had spent months hammering out details of the agreement, which has undergone more than 10 revisions.

Messenger Vice President Gary Austin said the company is no longer interested in the tentative agreement because it could force the company into obtaining Moorpark’s approval for any building plans.

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The Messenger-owned property now falls under the county’s jurisdiction, and he suggested that the company might consider seeking county approvals if Moorpark is unwilling to back the development.

“We have the right to decide whether or not to seek annexation to the city or some kind of development through the county,” Austin said. “The city may very well want to preclude us from having that option.”

Led by Councilman Scott Montgomery, the council moved to do exactly that Wednesday night. Calling the company’s new stance “tragic” and a “stunning development,” Montgomery prodded the council to try to enlarge the city’s sphere of influence--whether Messenger wants to go along or not.

If the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission gives Moorpark such control over the 4,000 acres, Messenger would have no choice but to seek Moorpark’s approval for development plans.

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“I would recommend that we go ahead, unilaterally, to apply,” Montgomery said at the meeting. The councilman added that Moorpark residents “should have an authoritative voice, not just a voice,” in what eventually happens to the land.

Montgomery’s suggestion drew criticism from Mayor Paul Lawrason, who saw the sudden rush to enlarge the city’s sphere of influence as a bid to obtain “leverage” over the developer.

Lawrason said Thursday that he does not “support the idea” of the city moving ahead with the sphere expansion against the will of the largest single property owner. “It doesn’t seem right,” he said.

The rest of the council sided with Montgomery, however, voting 4 to 1 to prepare an application to LAFCO seeking to expand the city’s sphere of influence to include the acreage northeast of the city limits. The sphere is presently contiguous with the city boundaries.

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The matter is scheduled to return to the council March 17, when a decision could be made on whether to go forward with the application, which would take three months to process.

In the meantime, a council subcommittee made up of Lawrason and Councilman Bernardo Perez has been instructed to meet with Messenger representatives and try to restart negotiations.

LAFCO Executive Officer Stan Eisner said the willingness of a property owner to go along with annexation is only one of the criteria that the commission considers with any application.

“I don’t know how five members at any given point in time would react if the city were to say, ‘Hey, this is our city and we want this,’ and then the major property owner stood up and said, ‘This is our property and we don’t ever want to be annexed to the city of Moorpark,’ ” Eisner said.

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Messenger’s retreat from Moorpark came after a council meeting last week in which Councilmen John Wozniak and Pat Hunter objected to some terms of the agreement between the city and the developer.

In addition, Montgomery has been pushing for voters in the city to make the final decision on the final plan for developing the property. Messenger opposes any such council-sponsored referendum.


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