After a two-year hiatus, the Oxnard City Council revived plans Tuesday to develop as many as 3,500 dwellings, schools and commercial buildings on agricultural fields and wetlands near Ormond Beach.
In a study session for the council’s newest members, an independent consultant outlined half a dozen possible scenarios to develop the 1,200 undeveloped acres between Pleasant Valley Road and the Pacific Ocean.
All of the council members spoke enthusiastically about pushing forward the project, which was initially proposed in 1987 by the Orange County-based developer, the Baldwin Co.
“We’ve taken a Mickey Mouse approach to this whole process, which is why we’re here doing this all over again,” said Michael Plisky, a councilman who sat through the first series of debates over the property.
“We need to move forward with this now or else we’ll be doing this a third and fourth time.”
The plan, which could include development of wetlands, has drawn the scrutiny of area environmental groups that oppose development of the ecologically fragile marshes and other coastal property.
Under the Baldwin Co.'s proposal, the development could cover some wetlands, potentially displacing the habitats of several endangered plant and animal species.
Councilman Tom Holden, one of the new council members examining the issue for the first time, said he believes there is room for compromise.
“You have some people who want no development, and some who want dense development,” Holden said. “You can have a project which would accommodate each entity and avoid either extreme.”
During the three-hour session, the council examined six possible development scenarios that had initially been drawn up in 1991. Under the assortment of options in the various plans, developers could build lakes, canals, a 600-slip marina, an ocean pier, a hotel, a 7,000-seat amphitheater, a golf course, and even a public aquarium.
One option, which was well received by the council, was to create a 750-acre theme park on the land, along the lines of a Disneyland or Sea World.
Council members said they would give preference to those scenarios that would raise the most money for the city.
“It must be of direct financial benefit to Oxnard,” said Eric Sakowicz, a spokesman for the independent consultant hired to formulate a plan. “I was directed that it is the key element.”
Sakowicz said that the development also must be designed to draw people to Oxnard and serve as an anchor to help revitalize blighted sections in South Oxnard.
Bedford Pinkard and Andres Herrera, the two other new council members, said they think the time had come to move forward.
“I would like to see this land used as a strong commercial tourist draw,” Pinkard said.
Added Herrera: “I’m concerned that we maximize the protection of the resources we have there, that we draw people to Oxnard, and that this plan is financially beneficial to the city.”
Sierra Club member Alan Sanders said he was disappointed that the City Council did not include the environmental community’s alternative development plan in Tuesday’s study session. Environmentalists want to limit construction to areas outside of the wetlands and in exchange have developers restore historic wetlands that have been turned into farmland.
“They went through all this public discussion saying they wanted our input and our alternative was not here today,” Sanders said. “We would like to see the historic wetlands return to wetlands.”
Jean Harris, who is a member of the community group, the Ormond Beach Observers, said she is optimistic that the council will weigh the development’s negative impact on the environmental.
“I think it’s very heartening that the council asked for this study session,” Harris said. “I really do feel they are remaining open about this.”
In coming weeks, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will release a study that will determine which part of the land needs to be protected from development. With that information, Sakowicz said, the council can continue to move ahead with planning and review.
The next public discussion on the development is scheduled for Oct. 26.