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Task Force Considers How County Should Control Growth and Urban Sprawl

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One day after Ventura voters approved a measure limiting development on farmland, a special task force made up of city and county officials gathered Wednesday to re-examine the county’s growth policies.

More than 60 people--including residents, developers and farm representatives--participated in Wednesday’s task force meeting at the Ventura County Government Center. Task force members include County Supervisors Maggie Kildee and Judy Mikels and officials from all of the county’s 10 cities.

Much of the two-hour discussion centered on the county’s Guidelines for Orderly Development, a 26-year-old policy credited with preventing the same kind of urban sprawl that has overwhelmed the once agriculturally rich San Fernando Valley. The policy simply states that urban development should occur in and around existing cities.

As the meeting progressed, however, participants focused on what many considered the central issue: Should the county change its definition of “rural” zoning, which currently allows one house per acre. In contrast, agricultural zoning allows only one residence for every 40 acres.

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Several participants said that the definition of rural is outdated, noting the proliferation of million-dollar ranch houses that have essentially turned the Santa Rosa Valley into an upscale subdivision over the last decade.

“The main reason we’re here is because no one likes the one-acre definition of rural,” said Earl McPhail, the county’s agricultural commissioner.

“I think you have two choices,” McPhail told the task force. “You can either throw out ‘rural’ as a land-use designation. Or you can come up with a consensus of what rural really is in Ventura County in 1995.”

McPhail suggested a compromise between 1 and 40 acres for the new definition, perhaps one house for every 10 acres.

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Others at the meeting suggested that different issues need to be addressed when allowing development in unincorporated areas of the county. Determining the cost to deliver police and fire services to new houses was cited as an example.

The creation of the task force was prompted by objections from the Assn. of Ventura County Cities--a committee of mayors--to a proposal that would allow a developer to build housing on 195 acres of farmland in Somis.

A divided Board of Supervisors approved Knightsbridge Holdings’ request last summer to apply at a later date to rezone its land from agriculture to rural, which would allow for the development of up to 189 houses. Supervisors Kildee and Susan Lacey objected to the request.

The Knightsbridge proposal has drawn angry protests from neighbors, who say that the housing project would overburden roads, schools and public safety services to the area.

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Worse, they said, if the housing project is allowed to go forward it will open the floodgates for more development on agricultural land.

Clyde Pratt, a Somis resident who attended the meeting, said he was encouraged by the discussion.

“It’s not inevitable that all of Southern California end up like Los Angeles,” he said. “I’m very heartened to see people coming together and trying to arrive at a solution that at the end of the day . . . we can all be proud of--that this will be a great place to live.”

The task force has scheduled a second meeting at the Government Center for Nov. 14 from 4 to 6 p.m.

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