Panel to Look at Protection of Farmland : Housing: County will consider forming a group to study tightening policies keeping urban projects within or near city boundaries.


With pressure mounting to build houses on Ventura County farmland, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider forming a task force to study tightening the county's development policies.

Board Chairwoman Maggie Kildee has proposed bringing together county officials and representatives from all 10 cities to re-evaluate the county's Guidelines for Orderly Development, which call for keeping urban development within or adjacent to city boundaries.

The idea was prompted by objections from the Assn. of Ventura County Cities--a committee of mayors--to a proposal that would allow Knightsbridge Holdings Inc. to build housing on 195 acres of farmland in Somis.

A divided Board of Supervisors recently approved Knightsbridge's request to apply for rezoning of its land from agriculture to rural, which would allow development of 189 residences. The developer was also given the green light to conduct an environmental study of the project. Kildee and Supervisor Susan Lacey voted against the requests.

The board's action has rallied neighbors against the Knightsbridge proposal, which the residents say threatens their quality of life. Landowners argue that the project violates the spirit of the county's development guidelines, which are credited with protecting Ventura County from the type of willy-nilly growth that has overrun Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Kildee said the purpose of the task force is not to undermine the Knightsbridge proposal, but to clarify the county's development guidelines and to consider possible changes for the future.

"It's an opportune time to re-look at land-use policies and see if the county and the cities agree on the guidelines," she said. "I think there are some misunderstandings."

Kildee said one issue that needs to be cleared up is the county's definition of rural zoning. Currently, this zoning allows for one residence per acre.

"By definition that's rural, but when I think of it I think of urban," Kildee said. "We need to get clear in our minds what we mean. Maybe our interpretation [of rural] changes over the years."

Supervisor Frank Schillo, who supported the Knightsbridge request, said he would like to see the county get out of the planning business altogether. He said he hopes the task force will discuss the possibility of turning over all future development issues to the cities.

"I think we ought to look at it," he said. "It would help reduce the size of government."

As for the Knightsbridge project, Schillo stressed that supervisors have not yet approved the developer's proposal and there is no guarantee they will.

"They know upfront that they may be turned down," he said. "They're big boys, if they want to spend the money [on an environmental study], they know they are taking a chance."

Schillo said the Knightsbridge proposal does not violate the county's Guidelines for Orderly Development. He said the guidelines encourage keeping urban development within cities, but put no such restriction on rural development.

He also pointed out that the Knightsbridge project is next to a 140-home community.

But David Smith, vice mayor of Camarillo, said he believes the Knightsbridge project goes against the county's development policies because of the heavy burden it would place on roads and schools, as well as police and fire services.

"The Knightsbridge project would build more residences in one fell swoop than exist now in the entire area of Somis," Smith said. "It doesn't have the infrastructure to support that kind of development."

Smith said he would like to see the county change its definition of rural zoning to allow less housing per acre.

Dennis Hardgrave, a Knightsbridge consultant, said he believes the developer's project should be judged by the county's current guidelines.

"This is not urban development," he said. "It falls within the definition of rural under the current guidelines."

Pending approval by the supervisors, the task force's first meeting is tentatively scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m. on Nov. 8 at the Ventura County Government Center.

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