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Plan for 326 Homes Raises Fear of Sprawl

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A proposal to build 326 houses in open space between this city and Simi Valley has angered slow-growth advocates, who argue it would lead to urban sprawl by bringing the cities’ borders closer.

The Woodridge development, as it has come to be known, is a plan to annex 738 acres in the hilly area just north of Lang Ranch from Ventura County into Thousand Oaks. The project would link Westlake and Sunset Hills boulevards, but it would not connect the roads with the adjacent Wood Ranch development to the north in Simi Valley.

“This would cut into the ring of open space that Thousand Oaks talks so much about, and it would create new traffic problems for the residents of Lang Ranch and Sunset Hills,” said Planning Commissioner Linda Parks, who is running for City Council on a slow-growth platform.

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Not so, says the developer. Although the Woodridge site totals 738 acres, the single-family homes would all be built in a 105-acre area. The remainder of the property would become permanent, publicly owned land, thereby completing Thousand Oaks’ long-envisioned ring of open space, according to a report by the developer’s Thousand Oaks consultant, Haaland Group Inc.

That layout would preserve hiking trails, a wildlife corridor, a “buffer” area between Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, and also guarantee that no surface streets in the area ever linked the two cities, the report states.

Last week, Thousand Oaks sent notices to five homeowners’ groups, informing each that an environmental review of the development proposal is about to begin. Developers have also met with some of the homeowners in the area to discuss the project, though the Planning Commission will probably not hear the project until next year.

The development comes forward at a time when residents and slow-growth advocates throughout Ventura County are voicing increased concerns over the blurring boundaries between local cities. Earlier this year, a series of small development proposals in the Tierra Rejada greenbelt separating Thousand Oaks, Moorpark and Simi Valley drew an outcry from the cities’ leaders, who want growth to take place in urban areas.

And last week, a group calling itself Greenbelt Protection for Ventura County announced it plans to fight what it sees as urban sprawl at the ballot box.

In Thousand Oaks, Parks and council candidate Dan Del Campo have been distributing fliers slamming the development proposed by Woodridge Associates, a Los Angeles-based partnership. Thousand Oaks land-use attorney Chuck Cohen, who is representing Woodridge, contends the fliers are inflammatory and misleading.

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“That land has been in the Thousand Oaks General Plan since 1971,” Cohen said. “There is no dispute here, what you have heard is erroneous. It has been reviewed every four years since then, and no change has taken place.”

Cohen accused Parks and Del Campo of tossing facts aside and painting a negative picture of Woodridge in an effort to win votes. He repeated that if the project is approved, the developer intends to cede 86% of the land to the Conejo Open Space Preservation Agency or to Thousand Oaks.

“I know they want to get elected, but let’s be truthful,” Cohen said. “It is no surprise that there will be opposition, and that’s par for the course. But getting people riled up based on false statements is another thing, and it’s totally inappropriate.”

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Del Campo said he and Parks are merely trying to inform the public about the Woodridge development before it is too far along to derail.

“I don’t think it’s a question of riling people up,” said Del Campo, who lives in the Brock Collection neighborhood near the proposed houses. “I think it’s a question of letting people know while they can still do something. Most people say that by the time that Planning Commission sign goes up, it’s too late.”

Edward Shuck, a 12-year Thousand Oaks resident, has been knocking on doors in his Brock Collection neighborhood, warning residents about the Woodridge development.

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“It’s right over our shoulder here, 325 homes in an open area, and it’s going to have a major effect on our lives,” he said. “The environment that we know and came here for is going to be gone soon, and I don’t like it.”

Earlier this year, the City Council allowed the annexation application to proceed on a 3-2 vote, with Councilwoman Elois Zeanah and former Councilwoman Jaime Zukowski dissenting. The land in question is now zoned as open space by the county, which means only one residence per 160 acres can be built there. Consequently, in addition to annexation to Thousand Oaks, the Woodridge developers would need a zoning change from the city for the proposal to become reality.

Moreover, a portion of the land is considered “reserve residential,” which means the land was intended as open game for development only if there was a critical need for housing after the remainder of the city was built out. Also, the property is within the jurisdiction of the Simi Valley Unified School District, and would have to be detached from that agency to the Conejo Valley Unified School District.

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Among the probable environmental impacts of the development are: interference with the movement of wildlife, impacts to sensitive plant and animal species, alteration of the landscape due to grading, increased demands on city water and sewer systems, and added traffic, according to a city report.

Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton said he has no problems with the Woodridge proposal as long as Simi Valley roads are not affected, and there is an open space buffer zone between Wood Ranch and Thousand Oaks.

“It sounds like a Thousand Oaks problem to me,” Stratton said. “If it [Woodridge] is in their sphere of influence, it’s obvious that it was meant to be annexed to Thousand Oaks eventually.

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“The real question becomes, we’re going to leave that side of Wood Ranch pretty much in its natural state,” he added. “Are they going to do the same on their side? If so, then we’ll both be happy.”

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