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416-Unit Condo Project OKd by Simi Planners

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A 416-unit condominium project that includes 31 homes for low-income residents has received Planning Commission approval for construction on the old Simi Valley Days lot in the city’s west end.

Despite concerns about parking and the lack of open space around the densely packed condominiums, commissioners unanimously approved the project late Wednesday because it provides much-needed affordable housing.

Portions of the project are still subject to approval by the City Council.

“I think we all agreed that the benefits outweighed the negatives with this project,” Commissioner Richard Kunz said. “You have houses a little closer together than normal, but that is offset by the fact that the developer has lowered costs to the home buyer.”

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Of the 416 units planned for the flat, grassy 44-acre lot near Los Angeles Avenue and Madera Road, 147 will be detached single-family houses. The owners of these units will cooperatively pay for maintenance of common areas around the structures so the units are still designated as condominiums.

The joint-maintenance plan, in conjunction with a $750,000 city loan to the developer, helped drive costs down enough to support the affordable units, Griffin Homes officials said.

City Council members agreed to offer Griffin the loan in September when they learned they could use federal funds aimed at replacing housing lost in the Northridge earthquake.

The 31 low-income units are expected to cost between $110,000 and $115,000 with a 10% down payment. To qualify for the housing, a family of four can earn no more than $39,900, according to Jake Faller, project manager.

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“This is not a freebie,” Faller said. “But we’re hoping that with state and federal assistance programs, this will allow people who otherwise could not buy a new home (to) qualify.”

Other units in the project are expected to cost at least $140,000, Faller said.

The affordable nature of the project helped allay planning commissioners’ concerns, including on the lack of space between some units. Commissioners said some residents of two-story structures could too easily peer into neighbors’ back yards.

“That bothered me,” Kunz said. “It’s something we have to look out for.”

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Griffin representatives agreed to plant tall, thick vegetation between the units to block views between houses.

But they said they want to create a tight-knit community. To increase contact between neighbors, the project was designed with numerous courtyards as well as a park-like jogging trail that circulates throughout the complex.

“This is supposed to be a real neighborhood, where people sit out on their porches and watch their kids,” Faller said. “Part of that comes from the fact that the design encourages people to walk around the project.”

But to leave space for the walking path, the project counts on street parking to meet city requirements. Commissioners agreed to the unorthodox plan after declaring the project’s streets private and gaining assurance from the Fire Department that the parking scheme caused no safety problem.

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For Griffin, Faller said the approval means the end to nearly two years of negotiation with the city. Groundbreaking is set for August, and Faller said he expects to sell the first units in 1996.


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