Road Ruling Could Delay Proposed Park : Simi Valley: Officials seeking city approval hope to avoid waiting until 1st Street is extended for project access.


The Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District will seek a permit tonight from Simi Valley city officials to build a 166-acre community park that eventually would include an amphitheater, hiking trails, a camping area and a nature center.

But a condition that city officials want to place on the permit could stall development of Challenger Park, said Dmitri Hunt, the district's planning and development administrator.

The city wants to prevent construction of the park until the financially troubled developer of the neighboring Wood Ranch community extends 1st Street in front of the park property, which may not occur for several years, Hunt said.

That condition, coupled with a lack of money to build the ambitious $3.5-million park, could delay the project, Hunt said.

The park is planned on former cattle-grazing land at the southern end of 1st Street, which dead-ends near Bluegrass Street, Hunt said. The vacant, gently sloping land now contains a few oak trees, and is covered with chaparral and other scrubby vegetation.

The issue is scheduled to be decided by the Simi Valley Planning Commission tonight.

Requiring a street to be built before a project is constructed is city policy, said Laura Kuhn, Simi Valley's deputy director of planning.

"Without that condition, we could have a park facility there without the appropriate road improvements," Kuhn said.

The park is planned to be developed in five phases, and the 1st Street extension is not needed to serve the park until the final phase is constructed, Hunt said. The final phase includes a second parking area, more restrooms and a helipad for Ventura County fire officials.

As an alternative, the city could halt construction of only the last phase of the park until the street is constructed, Hunt said.

The Planning Commission could go along with a recommendation from the city's planning staff to require the street extension before the park is built, or the panel could change the condition, officials said.

"If they approve the project as it's conditioned now, that would put us in a position of having to wait before we can develop the park," Hunt said.

District officials would prefer the condition be changed, but would still accept approval under the present restrictions because a permit is needed before the district can obtain state and federal grant money to build the park, Hunt said.

The plan would go before the City Council only if the Planning Commission's decision is appealed.

"This is a unique park, because it has no ball fields, no tennis courts or basketball courts," Hunt said. "It's a much more passive type of park that emphasizes enjoyment of the natural environment."

Plans call for a nature center with exhibits highlighting the land's natural and historic significance, Hunt said. A small camping area would be built for use by organized groups such as the Boy Scouts, he said.

Nature talks could be given at the 50-seat outdoor amphitheater before hikers embark on walks on trails winding through the property, which eventually would connect with other trails in the area, Hunt said.

"We don't have anything like this currently in Simi," Hunt said.

Even if the permit is granted, park officials do not know when they might find enough money to begin building the park. The first phase, with a parking area, hiking trails, a nature center and restrooms, would cost about $400,000, Hunt said.

The district does not have money to complete the extension of 1st Street along the park boundary, Hunt said. Apparently, neither does Olympia/Roberts Co., the developer of Wood Ranch, which is responsible for building the road.

The developer's financial woes became public last November when Olympia/Roberts defaulted on its $15-million loan, and Wells Fargo Bank scheduled an auction of the Wood Ranch Golf Club and nearby lots for future houses.

Since then, the company has received several foreclosure extensions from Wells Fargo. Olympia/Roberts representatives have said they have been trying to sell the Wood Ranch property, a 3,000-acre planned community.

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