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Moorpark Soon to Join Country Club Set

Times Staff Writer

Joining its larger neighbors, Moorpark will become the latest east county community with a country club -- being built as the focal point of an exclusive neighborhood of upscale homes.

“It’s like a coming of age for the community,” said Conejo Valley Assn. of Realtors President Peter Greer. “Westlake has Sherwood, [Simi Valley] has Wood Ranch and we’ve got our country club, with nice homes, vistas and the sort of things we can look forward to in future development.”

Although the clubhouse won’t open until fall in Country Club Estates at Moorpark, Greer said that “a country club atmosphere” has already started to develop around town. He thinks it symbolizes a step up in the reputation of Ventura County’s youngest city.

“It’s so much different from what’s been developed so far in Moorpark, it’s created a bit of a stir,” said Greer, who manages a Troop Real Estate office in Moorpark. “It’s had a real positive effect on people.”

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The 20,400-square-foot clubhouse will include a 150-seat restaurant and bar, banquet seating for 300, meeting rooms and a golf shop.

Behind the country club is the city’s first golf course, 18 holes designed by Peter Jacobsen, a touring professional since 1977.

When an additional nine holes are added late next year, the semiprivate course will meander through the 655-acre community on both sides of its main thoroughfare.

Mayor Patrick Hunter voted against the project because of questions about the initial developer, but he now welcomes it.

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“If you were interested in this type of housing, you would have had to move outside the city,” Hunter said. “We are now able to accommodate move-up buyers.”

These are not the only $1-million properties in town. But Country Club Estates is the first tract of semi-custom homes with prices beginning at $930,000 and, with available options, topping out at more than $1.3 million.

Countywide, homes in this price range represented a mere 2% of the total sold last year. In 2002, only 401 homes out of 17,775 sold for more than $900,000, according to John Karevoll, an analyst with DataQuick Information Systems.

In Moorpark, the median price of a home was $350,000 last year, $25,000 more than the countywide median.

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Although Karevoll said the high cost of homes in County Club Estates should not, by itself, cause a dramatic spike in the average home price in Moorpark, such high-end housing can be fairly lucrative for a city.

In addition to an up-front developer payment of $3 million, an additional $2.25 million in payments scheduled and several planned donations of open space and improved land, Moorpark will also receive more than $19,000 in mitigation and in-lieu fees for each home sold.

Construction of the residences, which range from about 4,000 to more than 5,800 square feet, began early last year, and the first families moved in Sept. 1. To date, 66 of the homes, with four-car garages on lots averaging a third of an acre, have been sold.

Craig Messi, senior project manager for the developer, Pennsylvania-based Toll Bros., said most of the initial buyers were Moorpark residents seeking a more exclusive neighborhood.

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One such homeowner is Pat Leyden, a broker associate at Troop Real Estate who moved with his wife, Mary, into a five-bedroom model at Country Club Estates after living in another pricey Moorpark neighborhood.

“We love it up there,” he said. “It’s far enough away -- kind of on the outskirts of town, but still within the city limits. It’s close enough for the day-to-day shopping needs but far enough away to feel like you’re in the country.”

That’s just the reaction Toll Bros. had in mind, said Messi, who compares this development to something one might see in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley. The project will have a maximum of 216 homes on fewer than 200 acres, with twice that much land devoted to the golf course and open space.

“There’s a lifestyle that we’re trying to reproduce here, that ranch style of living: people who want the ambience of a rural atmosphere but still want to be close to town and civic amenities,” Messi said.

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Along with requiring each homeowner to plant a minimum of five mature trees in the frontyard, Toll Bros. maintains a mini-orchard of about 20 acres of orange and avocado trees in the common landscaped areas.

Although grading will soon begin on the final 121 lots, Messi said his company still only will build one home at a time, up to about 40 a year.

Toll Bros. bought out the project in late 1998 after the original builder backed out. The company continued a lawsuit against the city by the previous builder that sought to adjust certain performance deadlines and building requirements. The dispute was, for the most part, finally settled this month.

Toll Bros. adjusted parts of the project -- eliminating nine holes from the original golf course proposal, for example -- to create a more environment-friendly community.

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The amount of rolling hills left undisturbed increased from about 50 acres to more than 200, wetlands are being restored on the property and the golf course has applied to Audubon International to be certified as a cooperative wildlife sanctuary.

“When they wanted to go down to 27 [holes], I was all for that,” said Councilwoman Roseann Mikos. “That means there would be a lot less grading and some hillside land would be protected.”

Since the golf course opened Sept. 30 -- its first event was a tournament that raised more than $70,000 for the Moorpark Boys & Girls Club -- the level of use has surpassed initial projections, said Mike Nix, the country club’s general manager.

Barry Hogan, Moorpark’s community development director, reported to the council earlier this year that Toll Bros. was generally in compliance with the terms of its agreement. That deal calls for the company to build a horse and jogging trail through the property to connect to an existing equestrian system, and to construct a trailhead that it will donate to the city.

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Toll Bros. also is required to complete several road improvements, including connecting Championship Drive to Walnut Canyon Road and placing a traffic signal and railroad crossing arms at the intersection of Grimes Canyon and Los Angeles Avenue. The company also will add turning lanes on Los Angeles Avenue.

Delays on these improvements, along with disputes about landscaping and where hillside homeowners could locate their wrought-iron fences, held up the move-in date for the neighborhood’s original homeowners for several months.

“It’s unfortunate.... There have been a variety of delays,” Mikos said. “Some would like to blame the city; some would like to blame the developer. There have been mistakes on both sides. I think we’re going to get it all worked out and it’ll be a community that people will enjoy living in.”

Pat Leyden, who moved to Moorpark in 1985, agrees that the delays were regrettable -- “We were in escrow for 21 months,” he said -- but said living in a first-class community with a golf course made the wait bearable.

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“I’m a golfer, so that was incentive” to stick it out, Leyden said. “Once the course is played more and people come out and see what it’s like out here, this is going to be a draw. These are beautiful homes and it’s a gorgeous location.”


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