Sparks Could Fly at Town Meeting

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Residents of Thousand Oaks' Newbury Park section, long regarded as a free-spirited lot who love their horses and despise encroaching strip malls, will have a chance to give the City Council a piece of their minds Tuesday during a town hall meeting.

With several hotly disputed development proposals on the horizon for Newbury Park, a former unincorporated community which makes up roughly one-fourth of the city's population, the meeting at an area branch of the Thousand Oaks Library promises to be anything but dull.

"There can be some real dialogue at these meetings, and we can get some real feedback about our concerns," said Newbury Park resident Lorraine Slattery.

If the City Council can get a word in edgewise, that is. During the first of four quarterly town hall meetings earlier this year, council members were besieged by angry residents intent on crushing Sport X, a proposal to build a for-profit athletic center at Conejo Creek Park in central Thousand Oaks.

Councilman Mike Markey, a Newbury Park resident, expects Tuesday's meeting to be a little more amicable--but no less intense. About 28,000 of Thousand Oaks' 110,000 residents reside in Newbury Park, and the area certainly knows how to show its political clout.

"Newbury Park is a very active area, and I'd be surprised if we didn't have a lot of people there for this," Markey said. "We're going to hear some valid complaints from the community, and some perceived problems. We'll just have to address these the best we can."

One of the topics certain to arise is the Cohan development, an unpopular, decade-old plan to build houses and a strip mall on some environmentally sensitive Newbury Park property.

The project was shot down by the City Council in 1992, but a state court ruled in 1994 that council members denied the developer, Nedjatollah Cohan,bothhis due process rights by appealing the Planning Commission's approval of the project to themselves and then overruling the commission, giving in to "the roar of the crowd" rather than using good judgment.

Hoping to avoid a multimillion-dollar lawsuit from the Cohan family, Thousand Oaks settled the dispute earlier this year by agreeing to allow the developer to build a slightly smaller project including a 117,000-square-foot shopping center, up to 105 single-family homes and 65 apartments.

Nevertheless, some Newbury Park residents, upset that Cohan is able to build at all, are eager to take on the developer again. They want more information from city officials about what exactly is going to happen on the land, part of which will become a large above-ground flood basin.

"We thought we had a victory here, and four years later, it's back," Slattery said. "We have not been informed of all the details of this botched deal."

Plans to develop Dos Vientos Ranch, another pending project, are also likely to be a topic of discussion. In particular, some Newbury Park residents have repeatedly asked for information on the city's dealings with Courtly Homes, one of two developers planning to build houses at the ranch.

Courtly Homes has defaulted on more than $800,000 in fees to the city over the past two years, a violation of its development agreement, and some residents are asking the city to cancel the pact.

"These meetings were designed to focus on the concerns of a particular part of the city, and in Newbury Park, there is probably no bigger issue than Dos Vientos right now," Councilwoman Elois Zeanah said.

In addition to the area's concerns, the town hall meeting will surely include some talk about that venerable magnet of Thousand Oaks controversy: the Civic Arts Plaza.

"I'm concerned about all the stuff going on with that monstrosity," said Richard Messina, who moved to Newbury Park 29 years ago.

Messina has also got some things to say to the council about the way Thousand Oaks is growing. It's way too fast, in his opinion.

"I used to have ranchland beside me," Messina said. "Now I have four houses. Some of that is to be expected, but there is a pro-growth council in control of this city, and they're completely out of control."

He may disagree with such opinions, but Mayor Andy Fox looks forward to hearing them on Tuesday. That, he said, is what town hall meetings are all about.

"Some of these meetings have been in-your-face," Fox said. "The Sport X meeting was pretty aggressive. But I enjoy that. I think residents should have an opportunity to let us hear what they really think."

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