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Proposal for Land-Swap Rejected by Council : Ventura: Ron Hertel had hoped to build 437 homes in exchange for giving the city property and $2 million for a regional park.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Ventura City Council rejected Monday a developer’s proposal to build 437 homes on a city-owned lemon orchard in exchange for donating land and $2 million toward a regional park.

Debating before a packed chamber, the council affirmed Ventura’s commitment to building a park on the city’s east side. But a motion by Councilman Jack Tingstrom to give developer Ron Hertel the housing allocations he needed to moved forward with his land-swap proposal died for lack of support.

“The proposal by Hertel has a lot of merit and an east end park is a real prize,” Mayor Tom Buford said. “But we need broad-based political support all the way along the line.”

The Hertel proposal had pitted eastside sports enthusiasts against neighbors of the project and agricultural preservationists.

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Only four of the seven council members were present for the decision. Councilmen Gregory L. Carson and Gary Tuttle and Councilwoman Rosa Lee Measures abstained because they all own property within 2,500 feet of either the proposed park site or the lemon orchard.

The Hertel project was one of 11 development proposals before the council. The city’s Comprehensive Plan forbids construction of any more than 1,018 homes through 1999. Developers, however, submitted requests this year to build nearly triple that amount.

In the council’s eagerness to build a regional park, they agreed Monday to set aside 400 of those housing units toward future developer agreements involving a park proposal.

The council also agreed to distribute an additional 406 housing allocations, leaving future councils the ability to award 212 through the year 1999 under the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

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Some opponents of the Hertel proposal said they were glad the council chose a more conservative course.

“I don’t expect (that there will be) no houses on the property, but I do expect them to build with more than one guy,” said Elaina Fletcher, who lives near the proposed Hertel development site.

Council members were still debating late Monday how to divide the 406 housing allocations among the remaining developers’ proposals, including one by the Neel family, who were seeking to build 120 houses on 26 acres west of Ventura Avenue, between Stanley Avenue and Seneca Street.

Kinko’s Service Corp., the national copy service giant, owns 22 adjoining acres to the south of the Neel land and company officials had warned that they may move their headquarters out of Ventura if the city did not permit residential development on the Neel property. Kinko’s officials, who may expand their operations, have said they believe the Neel project would upgrade the area.

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Initially, the veiled threat from Kinko’s and the opportunity to do private rehabilitation in the Avenue neighborhood brought enthusiastic support of the project from most council members. But early this summer, small business owners whose properties line the edges of the proposed development area hired an environmental attorney to fight the project.

The merchants worried the development would threaten their livelihood by attracting new neighbors who would object to the noise and the smell of chemicals from their heavily industrial businesses.

The attorney for the business owners has charged that the Neel property is almost certainly laced with oil-related contaminants that make it unsuitable for residential use. The Neels dispute the allegation and have commissioned soil studies that show no evidence of contamination by heavy industrial wastes.

Hertel had proposed donating to the city his 94 acres at Telephone and Kimball roads, which he cannot develop now because they are zoned for agricultural use until 2010. He would have given Ventura $2 million to build a park on the land, in exchange for permission to build homes on the 87-acre lemon orchard at Telegraph Road and Petit Avenue.

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The orchard is also designated agricultural until 2010 and the council would have been required to amend the city’s Comprehensive Plan before Hertel could have taken out any building permits.


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