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Dos Vientos Vote May Draw Appeal

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Planning officials may appeal last week’s Planning Commission vote on the massive Dos Vientos housing project--a decision they recommended in the first place.

City planner Jon Shepherd said Planning Director Phil Gatch is leaning toward an appeal on policy issues relating to construction of a handful of homes in the 2,350-unit Dos Vientos development.

Bob Haaland, a representative for Dos Vientos developer Arlen Miller, said the company would sue if an appeal goes forward.

“My client will sue in a heartbeat,” he said. “This involves millions of dollars.”

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The center of contention is Miller’s right to transfer 16 houses from one parcel to others in the project. The homes originally were part of a condominium housing tract, but were squeezed out of the plan in 1996 when Miller changed the condos to detached, single-family houses.

The City Council allowed the change, which required the relaxation of some city standards, with the condition that Miller would lose the right to transfer the homes to other tracts, council members say.

But a Ventura County Superior Court judge later invalidated the council’s decision for technical reasons. And when the council repeated its vote to allow the change in February, the language barring transfer of the 16 homes was left out of the resolution.

During last week’s Planning Commission hearing, Assistant City Atty. Nancy Kierstyn Schreiner said the City Council did not have a position on record regarding the transfer. “I think they made a conscious decision not to add it,” she said.

Developer representative Haaland also threatened to sue the city if the units were taken away, and the Planning Department had recommended approval with the transferred units intact.

The Planning Commission then voted 3 to 2 to approve the transfer and other parts of the housing development, but within two days the Planning Department began discussing an appeal with city lawyers.

City planners declined to say what prompted the apparent change of heart. But some City Council members said the transfer of the houses could be a problem.

Councilman Andy Fox said the council never intended to allow the developer to transfer the 16 homes.

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The February meeting at which the vote was repeated was not a “wide-open hearing starting from scratch,” agreed Councilwoman Elois Zeanah. She and Councilwoman Linda Parks voted against the change from attached condominiums to detached homes.

City planner John Prescott said he does not believe council members were involved in appeal talks, but developer Miller said he suspects that the council may have prompted the decision to explore an appeal.

If the City Council did prompt an appeal, the city could be vulnerable to a legal challenge, Haaland said.

Thousand Oaks lost a legal battle to developer Nedjatollah Cohan in 1994 after the council appealed a Planning Commission approval of a project that included a controversial shopping mall. After the council voted 4 to 1 against that project, Cohan took the city to court.

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Castigating the city for submitting to the “roar of the crowd,” a state court struck down the decision, and the city later paid Cohan $300,000 to settle the matter.

“This is just like the Cohan matter,” Haaland said. “The city is exposed to litigation here. Serious litigation.”


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