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Adventist Project Close to Gaining Planners’ Approval

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After six Planning Commission meetings stretched over two months, the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s plan to build a shopping center and new school facilities in Newbury Park appears close to winning approval.

Late Monday, a divided commission deadlocked 2 to 2 over key portions of the proposal.

But a fifth member, who went home sick early in the meeting, said Tuesday he is leaning toward approving the project. And the city attorney’s office says the commission can retake the votes as early as next week.

“I think it would be better for us to have a definitive action--either positive or negative--out of the commission before it goes to the City Council,” said Commissioner Joseph Gibson, who left before the midnight votes were taken.

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Even if the commission rejects the massive project, as it did in January, the City Council could grant the approval the developers need.

Commissioners split on whether to approve zoning changes and amendments to the city’s General Plan requested by the church, as well as whether to approve the project’s environmental impact report and Specific Plan.

Commissioners John Powers and Ronald Polanski--appointed by pro-growth Councilmen Mike Markey and Andy Fox, respectively--voted in the project’s favor. Commissioners Marilyn Carpenter and Linda Parks--appointed by the council’s two slow-growth councilwomen, voted against it.

Gibson, appointed by pro-growth Councilwoman Judy Lazar, said he still has some questions and concerns about the project, but is leaning toward approval.

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After researching the issue Tuesday, Assistant City Atty. Nancy Schreiner said a tie vote on legislative matters counts as a nonaction. The commission therefore can reconsider the issue before sending its recommendations to the City Council.

Polanski said Monday that the plan would boost the area’s economy and help keep a valuable resource--the church’s Newbury Park Adventist Academy--in the city.

“I look at the work this school and church have done in this community and I’m proud to have them,” Polanski said. “After spending many, many weeks reviewing this project, I feel it’s a strong plus for the community. We come out ahead.”

But Carpenter and Parks said the proposed 750,000-square-foot shopping center would draw customers away from existing Thousand Oaks businesses. And they said that plans to relocate the academy and the church’s retirement housing north of a ridgeline, on currently undeveloped land, would cut into the open space that many community residents regard as a valuable natural resource.

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“We are charged, sitting in these seats, to protect those resources in our city,” Carpenter said. “The direction from our community is clear, and this ignores that direction.”

At the heart of arguments both for and against the project is its location. Plans call for a regional shopping center composed of four distinct shopping plazas north of the Ventura Freeway at Wendy Drive. Tenants would include a Target store and a multiplex movie theater.

The church’s academy, currently located on the proposed shopping center site, would be moved to the northern end of the church property where it would be hidden from the shopping center and the freeway by a ridgeline.

Many of the objections raised against the project have centered on the proposed “north campus,” which would also include a 250-unit retirement complex, 12 townhomes and 27 apartments. Church officials say that by moving the school onto the undeveloped space north of the ridgeline, they could both update their facilities and recapture the rural atmosphere the current school enjoyed when it was first built.

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But the school’s proposed site lies on a hillside, one already occupied by rare and endangered plant species. Thousand Oaks city planners cited those problems in September when they told the commission the project conflicts with the city’s General Plan and recommended that the commission reject it.

In January, the commission voted down an earlier version of the project. The church then revised the project, cutting the amount of housing proposed.

At the church’s request, the City Council voted in June to send the revised plans back to the Planning Commission. Council members also instructed the commission to review the church’s proposal before moving on to other projects waiting for a hearing.


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