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Builder to Seek Voters’ OK

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a significant test of Ventura County’s slow-growth policies, a developer plans to seek Moorpark voters’ approval of a scaled-back version of the stalled Hidden Creek Ranch project.

Rather than ask the Moorpark City Council to place the revised project before voters, the developer intends to gather enough signatures for a ballot measure sometime next year.

That strategy has raised concerns among some slow-growth advocates and long-standing critics of the project.

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Representatives of what is being called the North Park Nature Preserve & Village are scheduled to present an overview of the 1,500-home project at Wednesday’s council meeting.

The revised project calls for less than half of the 3,200 homes originally proposed under the Hidden Creek plan, and less commercial development. It also includes a 2,117-acre preserve, an additional 499 acres of open space, a greenbelt between Moorpark and Simi Valley, a 43-acre sports park, a man-made lake, and a new interchange and four-lane arterial road designed to ease traffic between Moorpark College and the Ronald Reagan Freeway.

Hidden Creek originally was estimated to cost about $1 billion. The developer has not said how much the revised project would cost, but city officials said the homes on 10,000-square-foot lots just north of the city would likely be in the million-dollar range.

The development was expected to increase the city’s population by one-third.

Bypassing the normal planning process would allow the project to go forward with less environmental review, critics said.

“The way to do it is to put the project in front of the council to review it and ask the council to put it on the ballot,” said lawyer Richard Francis, who was instrumental in the passage of the slow-growth policy known as Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources, or SOAR. Similar measures are now in place in most of Ventura County.

“The only reason not to do it that way is subterfuge. The project may very well be a decent project, I don’t know. But it should go through the planning process first,” he said.

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Kim Kilkenny, vice president of Village Development LLC, the Newport Beach-based holding company overseeing the project, said there is no effort to avoid scrutiny.

“We’re convinced the more the public knows about it, the better off we’re going to be,” he said. “We’re looking forward to working with the public and explaining our motivation.

“We have confidence in the council’s deliberative process and think we could have gotten a fair hearing, but the SOAR initiative requires us to go to the public, and we would rather do that sooner than later.”

City Councilman Clint Harper said he and his colleagues would probably have many questions of Village Development officials and city staff in the weeks to come.

“I’m hoping something rises out of the rubble of this project,” Harper said. “But I’ve got some nagging questions about the process. Is this the way to do it? And the only way to find out is to get it out in the open and have city staff pick it apart and see how the community feels about it.”

Environmental impacts as well as questions about who is really in charge of the project will be examined. Irvine-based Messenger Investment Co., the group behind Hidden Creek Ranch, will have only a limited role in the new plan, according to Village Development officials.

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“It is not a repackaged Hidden Creek project,” Kilkenny said. “I don’t think that would be a fair summary at all.”

The Hidden Creek project galvanized slow-growth proponents to enact the city’s SOAR measure in 1998. Subsequent litigation over the project stalled it.

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