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City Hopes to Retain Open Space at Reservoir

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Westlake Village City Council took steps Tuesday to prevent development of housing on land around the Las Virgenes Reservoir, spurred by a proposed land swap between a developer and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

The council directed city employees to begin the process of changing the land’s zoning from low-density residential to open space.

“We’re going to do our best to keep it as open land,” said City Councilwoman Betty De Santis.

Westlake Village officials said it would take about six weeks to prepare the zoning change for a vote.

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The controversy arose after the conservancy said Monday that it was considering swapping 80 acres around the reservoir for 150 acres in Calabasas owned by Village Properties--a partnership controlled by the owners of Baldwin Builders, which is now in bankruptcy.

The conservancy said the proposed swap would settle a lawsuit brought by the developer against the conservancy and the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District.

Village Properties sued after the water district purchased 492 acres near the reservoir--the same land the developer had been trying to purchase for a housing tract.

The water district, which bought the land in 1993 for $6.3 million, later sold half to the conservancy. Village Properties charged that the two agencies conspired to keep it from purchasing the land.

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The home builder, which wanted to build 330 luxury homes near the reservoir, sought $60 million in damages for lost profits. A judge sided with Village Properties and the two agencies were ordered to pay Village Properties $11.2 million, which was eventually reduced by the judge to $4.2 million.

Village Properties could not be reached for comment. The company’s attorney, John Moscarino, said he was not aware of any proposed settlement.

Officials of the water district said their agency has not received any land swap offer from Village Properties.

In Calabasas--where some of the land in the proposed swap is located--City Manager Charles Cate said he would ask the City Council to add the topic to tonight’s meeting agenda. Councilwoman Karyn Foley said she was concerned that if the conservancy acquired the 150 acres in Calabasas through the proposed swap, the conservancy might eventually sell it to a developer.

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Foley said many in the city want the land to remain undeveloped.

Mary Wiesbrock, a member of Save Our Space/Santa Monica Mountains, called the proposal “a dirty deal,” and urged the Westlake Village City Council on Tuesday to pass the zoning ordinance.

Conservancy officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but an attorney for the conservancy, Laurie Collins, said Monday that no decision had been made on the proposed swap. The conservancy’s board of directors discussed the matter two weeks ago, she said, but took no further action.


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